Congolese refugees lend a hand to Cyclone Idai survivors

In a strong show of solidarity, refugees step in to support the humanitarian response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique

Congolese refugee Kitungano Kinga helps a woman affected by Cyclone Idai to carry her belongings to a relocation site in Beira, Mozambique.
© UNHCR/Luiz Fernando Godinho

On the frontlines of the emergency response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique are two energetic young men. Kinga and Kevin have volunteered themselves to help those affected by the storm in the port town of Beira.

“I was protected in Mozambique when I needed help and now I am giving a hand to those who received me,” says Kinga.

The 30-year-old Congolese refugee and Political Science student has lived in Mozambique for nearly two decades after he fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“I want to help people the same way I was helped and this is a wonderful opportunity to do that,” adds Kevin, 27, who sought refuge here four years ago and studies Communications and Arts at the Pedagogic University of Mozambique.

The two men responded to a call by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for volunteers to help with emergency response activities in Beira which was at the epicenter of the storm that struck Mozambique’s coast a month ago.

“I want to help people the same way I was helped and this is a wonderful opportunity to do that.”

Some 500 people lost their lives and 1.8 million others have been affected by the destruction wrecked by the storm.

Every day, Kinga and Kevin join the UNHCR response team, together with other aid agencies and the Mozambican authorities to support response activities in the town. These include the registration of cyclone survivors living in improvised shelters, their relocation to more secure settlements and allocation of tents and distribution of core relief items like solar lamps, kitchen sets and blankets.

Mozambique. Refugee humanitarian worker

Congolese refugee Kitungano Kinga (left) helps to translate interviews during a registration exercise for survicors of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique.  © UNHCR/Luiz Fernando Godinho

The two volunteers feel connected to the cyclone survivors as they can empathize with their situation, more so because they too were affected by the disaster. Their house was damaged by the heavy wind and rains that tore through their neighborhood.

“I cried when I saw all those people seeking a safe shelter close to my house,” recalls Kinga. “I even donated some of my clothes.”

“The suffering of those who have lost everything is the same.”

He adds that he understands exactly what the survivors of the cyclone face because he has gone through the same thing.

“The suffering of those who have lost everything is the same,” he adds.

Mozambique has a long history of hosting refugees with a current population of some 26,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the DRC. Support for Cyclone Idai survivors from the refugee community is a true show of solidarity to the communities that have hosted them for decades.

“The volunteer work of these refugees in support to the survivors of the cyclone demonstrates that refugees have the capacity to contribute to hosting communities and integrate in a productive manner in the countries of asylum,” says Hans Lunshof, UNHCR’s Representative in Mozambique.

“The volunteer work of these refugees...demonstrates that [they]have the capacity to contribute to hosting communities.”

Kevin hopes that his knowledge and skills will support the refugee community in Mozambique and facilitate peaceful coexistence between refugees and their host communities.

Kinga who’s studying on a DAFI scholarship is about to graduate and also hopes to continue working to help refugees in Mozambique.

See also: Cyclone Idai survivors struggle to rebuild devastated communities

“My dream is to work for UNHCR and support refugees even more,” he says.

He hopes that the devastation caused by the cyclone will bring people closer and make them stronger.

“I advise the survivors not to be sad and that’s why I share my experience as a refugee to show them that it is possible to move forward, event under the most horrible conditions.”