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The Mwanmba family

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo now living in Burundi.

In 1996 there had been rumours that forces from outside Congo would attack. I remember we were told that at seven one evening people would come from Mariba. A few minutes later the attack happened and we hid in the toilets outside our house. We watched as they searched the house and then set fire to it. My husband went back into the house because he thought my sister was still in her room – at the time she was only ten. When he got into the house they held him and asked him where he had been. He told them he had been in the toilet and they said, “we will close our eyes and then we don’t want to see you again.”

I spent the night hiding in the toilets. Everything in the house was burnt, even my diploma. I couldn’t say who they were but I remember I was told that they had come from Rwanda and Uganda. At about 10 o'clock the next day I saw young people with someone’s head on the end of a branch. We were really traumatised by this sight - it was then that we decided to flee. We crossed Uvira and headed to Mykibola Kigongo. Everyone was heading in that direction and everywhere we passed there were dead bodies. Then we came to a checkpoint where they looked into your face and told you to carry on or step aside. On this basis they decided whether or not to kill you. They killed someone and we had to stay there until other people came up behind us and they allowed us to go.

We were told to walk by Lake Tanganyika because it was safer than being in the forest. When we got to the lake shore some fishermen said they could take us across in their boats. We traveled all night long and were dropped in the morning on a beach. We weren’t the only ones, there were lots of other people trying to escape. We had no idea where we were until we were told that we were in Bujumbura. We were taken to a primary school by some kind of policemen and we were questioned, we told them what we had seen. We thought we would be given shelter or protection but we got nothing. We spent three days there, I met my sister there.

It wasn’t until 2010 that we got our refugee status. From 1996 to 2010 we only had a permit, by that time we already had four children. We hoped this would improve our situation but up to now nothing has changed. I want to go somewhere else if only for my children, for their education, for their protection. I am not going to give up trying to be relocated. I don’t know if we are half-dead or alive anymore. It’s difficult to pay for the schools, for food and even harder to find money to pay the rent. Education is the most important thing for me. The children have to have enough food to eat and then comes education so that they can one day be someone and really make something of their lives. Bujumbura is dangerous. How can I raise my children with all these thieves around? The neighbourhood is bad. In other countries you would have the police coming to chase these people but where are the police here?

When the rebels came to Congo things really changed. Congolese learned how to kill. Before that you couldn’t find a dead body and not cover it, but now you could find a dead body and just pass by. Things have really changed, how can you respect living people if you can’t respect the dead. I had never heard about women being raped but now it is like a song, repeated over and over again.