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Sisters with a Message: Our music will go where our feet can't reach

News Stories, 25 August 2014

© CourtesyofThebahatizz
The four Bahati sisters, who fled to Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo more than a decade ago. Today, they live in Canada and have formed a popular hip hop band called Thebahatizz. From left to right the sisters are: Rachel, Francine, Odette, Sylvie.

OTTAWA, Canada, August 25 (UNHCR) As refugees in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, the four Bahati sisters released a debut single entitled "Don't Give Up." It's a message they have long embraced and which has helped them survive the tough times and make a go of things since being resettled in Canada two years ago.

Better known as "Thebahatizz," Sylvie, aged 26, Rachel, 25, Francine, 23, and 21-year-old Odette have been building a healthy following and winning accolades and awards for their energetic brand of hip hop that draws on their experiences as Congolese refugees and acts as a form of therapy. They are also using their fame to highlight the issue of sexual violence, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Originally from Kiliba, a town in DRC's South Kivu province, the Bahati family fled to Uganda in 2002 to escape the debilitating war. In a series of e-mail exchanges with UNHCR from their home in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, the sisters told of the tough times they had endured as urban refugees.

"Life was not easy in Uganda, but we found comfort in music. Most days, we went to sleep on empty stomachs. We sang to feel a bit good," Rachel explained, while Odette noted that their living conditions were very basic. "There was no privacy; we were grown up girls already. We didn't have a mattress to sleep on and at night, we used to borrow clothes from the neighbours to lay our heads on," she added.

Music provided an escape and the sisters, who had always liked singing, formed Thebahatizz in Kampala and released their first single, "Don't Give Up," in 2010. But while it is a big part of their lives, Sylvie said that getting an education had been the most important thing for the girls since being resettled in Canada.

"Our biggest accomplishment so far in Canada, despite the Winnipeg cold, is to be able to go to school," she said, proudly adding: "We all graduated last June, after being in Canada for only 18 months." They all graduated with a high school diploma after studying as adults.

Now the girls are using their voices and growing reach to join a global campaign to end rape and other sexual violence in combat, especially against women, girls and boys in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom are forcibly displaced people.

To this end they recently launched their own campaign, "That Could Be Me," and have released two humanitarian music videos. "We chose this name because we want the world to put itself in the shoes of those women who are being sexually abused or the children who cannot go to school because of war," said Odette. The girls have been seeking support from individuals, corporations and businesses.

Thebahatizz are currently planning a tour in North America and Africa, looking for sponsors and venues. But music is not the only thing that keeps the four sisters busy. They are all dreaming to go to university next year.

While there is much to say about Thebahatizz, including their courage and determination to succeed in life and make progress in their musical career, there is one thing that remains close to their hearts. "We believe where our feet cannot reach, our music will," concluded Francine.

By Lauren Stanley and Gisele Nyembwe in Ottawa, Canada




A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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