/ 8 November 2006

Born, raised and married in a refugee camp

Ana Ndayizeye embodies the havoc that the unrest in Africa’s war-torn Great Lakes region has played on people’s lives. The 25-year-old was born in a refugee camp and knows no other world.

Born, raised and married in camps, the second-generation refugee has flitted from the Congo to Tanzania to Mozambique, where she now lives in the Maratane refugee camp, along with about 5 000 other people.

Maratane, linked by a dusty alluvial road, and about 2 000km north of the capital Maputo has a forlorn, lost air.

Ndayizeye, whose parents fled war in their native Burundi in 1972 for what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, lived in misery and penury in refugee camps in that country and then in Tanzania.

”I got married in a camp,” said the mother of three — her large eyes shimmering with infinite sorrow.

Africa’s Great Lakes region has been ravaged by war. The DRC’s civil war has cost about four million lives since 1998 and forced about 1,6-million people to abandon their homes and villages, according to the United Nations.

More than 400 000 Congolese are still living in nearby countries as refugees. Northern Uganda has been ravaged by a nearly 20-year insurgency and conflict has rent Burundi and Rwanda.

According to recent UN statistics, 90% of about 13-million people displaced within their own country by warfare, violence or natural catastrophes reside in Eastern and Central Africa — six million in Sudan, three million in DRC, two million in northern Uganda and 117 000 in Burundi.

Refugees in Africa — people forced to flee their own country — number 3,9-million, the UN says.

Most of the refugees in Maratane are from the Great Lakes region and ”mainly from the DRC and also Burundi and Rwanda”, said camp administrator Aderito Matangala.

The camp, run jointly by the Mozambican government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was opened in 2001 at a spot where lepers were sequestered during Portuguese colonial rule.

The camp includes a dispensary, a maternity unit, a market and two schools. French is the medium of instruction in one to cater to the children of Congolese refugees who are all francophone.

Violence and sexual attacks are a problem and women and girls are susceptible to rape when they go out to collect firewood.

”Rape is a major problem. The worst is that it’s focussed on children,” said Margarida Loureiro from the UNHCR who said a refugee from the camp was ”literally caught with pants down and lying on a six-year-old girl”.

The local police station has recorded 42 rape complaints this year but this according to some is just the tip of the iceberg.

”The attitude of men is really disgusting. I understand that people can be traumatised by war but that’s no excuse for everything,” said camp chief Matangala who has roped in psychiatrists to quell the high rate of rape.

Only a handful of the refugees return to their countries of birth.

”Since this year, 340 people emigrated to the United States and Canada but only four families wanted to be repatriated,” he said.

Salome Assina (28) said she never wants to return to the DRC with her brood of five because ”it’s pure suffering out there.”

Maxwell Amin (37) hails from faraway Liberia on West Africa’s Atlantic coast. He too does not want to go home, showing off scars on his hands and adding: ”The soldiers did that to me with a knife.”

For Ndayizeye it’s really being caught between a rock and a hard place.

”It’s difficult for me to integrate with the people here and I don’t want to go back to Burundi, which I don’t know at all. At the same time, I don’t want to be a refugee for the rest of my life.” – Sapa-AFP