Hounded from home, raped Congolese woman seeks refuge in Burundi

News Stories, 27 August 2014

© UNHCR/A.Nijimbere
Mama Monique in the Cishemere Transit Centre, Burundi. She fled to Burundi after her husband was killed and she was raped in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, August 27 (UNHCR) Four months ago, Mama Monique* was dragged out of her home in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and raped by four armed men, who had just murdered her husband.

The crime was not carried out in some rural backwater, but in Goma, a city of several hundred thousand people and capital of North Kivu province. Yet nobody came to help her or offer condolences, instead neighbours shunned the 49-year-old Congolese businesswoman and acted as though she was to blame for the rape.

At first, to escape the scorn of those living around her, the mourning and dejected Mama Monique moved to another area of the lakeside city with her family, including six children and two grandchildren.

Even then she could not find peace, tracked down by the people who killed her husband because of an argument linked to his work as head of the land registry office. These people now wanted title to her house.

She decided to move again, eventually ending up in neighbouring Burundi via Bukavu and Uvira in South Kivu province. "Believe me I didn't know where I was going; I just wanted to be as far away as possible from Goma and the people who knew us," she told UNHCR staff in the Cishemere Transit Centre for asylum-seekers.

But Mama Monique's ordeal is not an isolated case, despite the launch of high-level global campaigns by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and others to prevent sexual violence in conflict areas. These will take time to bring results; in the meantime, rape remains widespread and survivors of sexual violence continue to be stigmatized.

Mama Monique's life has changed drastically. She used to run a successful business selling jewellery to other women in Goma, and the family were self-sufficient and happy in a volatile area of the DRC. She finds it painful to think about this happier time.

Her children have also lost out. "I was very upset to leave," said her 18-year-old daughter, Mika,* who misses her school and friends it was very hard for her to leave without saying goodbye. She was about to start her final year at secondary school and hoped to go on to university and eventually become a teacher.

On the arrival in Burundi, Mama Monique and her family contacted the National Office for the Protection of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Bujumbura and were taken to the Cishemere centre, where they were registered as asylum-seekers. They will eventually be moved to the Kavumu Refugee Camp in eastern Burundi.

UNHCR and its partners help newly arrived refugees with food, water, shelter and medical assistance. Mama Monique has been receiving medical care and counselling for trauma. Her children are hopeful that even in exile they can resume their studies and prepare for the future. For their mother, it will be more difficult to adjust to a new life after losing so much. .

Burundi currently hosts around 50,000 refugees, mostly from Democratic Republic of the Congo (47,800). Some 9,200 asylum-seekers from the DRC have been granted refugees status in Burundi since the start of 2013.

* Names changed for protection reasons.

By Alix Nijimbere in Bujumbura, Burundi




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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