A story from a former Rwandan refugee who has returned home
“I have returned to Rwanda to spend my life where I belong. I returned with the hopes of rebuilding my livelihood in the country that I have always called home,” – Marie Uwimana, a former Rwandan refugee.
Marie, born in the Southern Province of Rwanda, was only 8 years old when her family had to escape from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). All grown up, Marie has since returned to Rwanda with her two children. As she sits in the transit centre run by UNHCR and the Government of Rwanda to be transported to her home town, Marie tells UNHCR that she has returned to introduce her children to their home country, to be reunited with her siblings who were separated in the DRC, and to start their lives as no longer being refugees.
“When I was only 8 years old, my parents, two sisters and two brothers fled from Rwanda to seek refuge in Inera refugee camp, in the South-Kivu province of DRC. Even though we had escaped genocide, our problems were only just beginning.
Even though we had reached safety in the DRC, the horror of my memories starts with the sudden and unexpected death of my sister after falling ill. Two years later in October 1996, the camp was dismantled and my father became separated from our family while we were transitioning. With no information on the whereabouts of my father, my family and I continued to travel south along Lake Kivu until we reached Kalehe. Unfortunately Kalehe is where my older brother passed away.
The area where we had settled was subject to increasing insecurity and we would spend many days without food or water. Our community leader, also a refugee from Rwanda, urged people to move to Walikale in North Kivu, but on our way my mother and I were separated from my remaining sister, Consolate, and brother, Andre. My mother and I were all we had and we made it safely to Walikale. But when I had turned 13 years old my mom had passed away and I was alone.
I remember passing several years in despair, feeling desperate as I was no longer with my family in a country that was not my home. I had heard there were more chances of finding a job in Masisi and decided to move there in search of a better life. In Masisi, I met a Congolese family that accepted me, took care of me and raised me as their own child. I am forever grateful to my second family. At 22 years old, I met a Congolese man whom I married and we were blessed with two children, Noella and Floribert.
In June 2016, I had met a woman, a former Rwandan refugee from my home town of Gitarama, who came to take her relatives back to Rwanda with her. She told me that Consolate and Andre (my sister and brother) had also returned to Rwanda five years earlier and are safe and sound! She gave me their contacts and after years apart — I was communicating with my family again! After talking to them, I knew it was time to go back to Rwanda and meet my family.
I do not know much about what is going on in Rwanda, but I am very excited to be back to my motherland. I am extremely excited to see my brother and sister again, and to introduce them to their niece and nephew! I am sure it will now be easier to forget the hard life I went through over the past years once I see them again, and to move on from my life as a refugee.”
The events of 1994 in Rwanda prompted a mass refugee outflow. Today millions of Rwandans who fled have returned home and rebuilt their lives. Since the Cessation clause was invoked in 2013, UNHCR has led the Return and Reintegration efforts to help Rwandans return in a safe and dignified manner, allowing them to come home after years abroad to rebuild their lives in their districts of origin.
Rwandan returnees who return to Rwanda after living in exile for years as refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are received by UNHCR and its partners in two transit centres in Western Rwanda. UNHCR ensured, transitional shelter, health services and basic assistance to the returnees, before transporting them to their districts of origin.
Nyirumuringa Janvier contributed reporting from Gisenyi, Rwanda