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Burundi

Safi Namikulo, 54

Refugee from South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, now living in Burundi.

I was an accountant at the factory in Uvira when the Mai Mai came to extort money. My mother was Rwandese so they threatened to kill me if I didn’t hand over anything. I couldn’t because there wasn’t any money there so they kidnapped me and the personnel manager, blindfolded us and made us walk for several hours until we reached the Ruzizi river. When we got there we took a boat to an island on the river where they kept me for 3 weeks until my family paid a ransom.

I couldn’t move, I was kept in the same hut the whole time and raped whenever they wanted. I was also beaten. I was afraid if I did something I would be killed. I wasn’t chained up but it was impossible for me to escape, I can’t swim and the currents are very strong there.

After my family handed over the money they released me and I walked home. When I got back I became very ill. There was no time to rest and get well because I was too afraid to stay there. I took my family and we crossed the river into Burundi, the border with Congo was closed at the time. When we reached Bujumbura I went straight to the hospital where I stayed for a month. I had multiple infections and I had an operation to remove my uterus.

We don't receive much help, I work a little with groups on gender based violence and I counsel victims. Life here is very difficult; when you are sick you have to pay 50% of the costs but we can’t even afford this. There's no advantage to being here in Bujumbura. This is the life of a refugee, living from day to day. I would never have thought I would live in a house like this, when I lived in Congo I had a large house. I had 50 cows but they were all stolen, that's why I think they kidnapped me. There's no way we can go back to Congo, I sold all I had and the Mai Mai took the rest.

Congo is all about war and you can see that in North Kivu where the rebels have started to fight the government again, there is no security. Everybody wants peace but because of the natural wealth of the Congo everybody is coming to search for gold and diamonds, that is what creates the problems.