DRC crisis: 'Our neighbours were killed and our house burned down'

CARE Uganda is supporting refugees from DRC with gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health services

At the beginning of the year, CARE International said that the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would face "an uncertain 2018".

Pierre Bry, CARE's Country Director for the DRC, said:

What we have now are all the ingredients for a humanitarian catastrophe. If the international community doesn't react quickly, it will be too late.

Four months into 2018, and there are no signs of the crisis abating, with an increasing number of Congolese people fleeing for neighbouring countries.

According to the UN Children's Fund, more than 60,000 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the beginning of the year. Most of these people have made a perilous and life-threatening journey across Lake Albert. 

An ongoing CARE gender-based violence assessment found that many women had directly experienced or witnessed at least one form of gender-based violence. 

CARE Uganda is responding in the refugee camps with gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health services for women who have been displaced.

Here are some of the stories of Congolese refugees who have fled to Uganda.

Esther, 20: "I hope God will help me find my husband"

Esther, 20, fled DRC for Uganda on her own

Esther made her living selling small fish that was caught by her husband. She had to leave her home in DRC when it was attacked.

At the time, her husband was fishing at the lake, and since she was unable to find him, she had to leave him behind and make the journey to Uganda alone.

She has not heard from him in four months, and says:

I hope that God will help me find him.

When she arrived in Sebagoro landing site on the shore of Lake Albert, she saw three children, crying and alone. Their parents had been killed, so Esther offered to care for them.

Today she is trying to find ways to pay back the neighbour who lent her money to pay for the boat trip to Uganda. She hopes to do that by planting sweet potato leaves she found in a ditch.

Jemina, 12: orphaned, raped, pregnant

Jemina is orphaned and pregnant at just 12 years old

Jemina is an orphan: her father died of malaria when she was a young child, and her mother from cholera just two months ago, when the disease struck the refugee settlement of Kyangwali, where Jemina and her family had sought refuge.

At just 12 years old, she is pregnant with her first child.

Four months ago, in her home village in DRC, she was raped while selling mandasi (fried bread) that was prepared by her mother.

An old man had told her he wanted to buy from her, and when she went inside, he locked the doors and raped her. She was screaming and crying in pain.

The neighbours heard her and they broke the door open to save her and brought the man to the police, who let him escape.

Today, she lives in Uganda with an old man who accepted to take care of her and his three sons, but the man has become ill and is in the hospital.

The sons share very little food with her and she has no way to get food on her own.

She is now in contact with CARE volunteers who are trying to make her life in Uganda better. CARE volunteers visit her and support her as a victim of gender-based violence, and have provided her with medical check-ups at the local hospital.

CARE is also working with child protection agencies to arrange for Jemina to have a foster family, a better place to stay and her own food card.

Rose, 19: "My mother doesn't believe that the father of my child was a rapist"

Rose has a baby as a result of rape

Rose used to live with her parents in Tchome, DRC, where she helped tending to their home.

Her baby is now one year and 5 months old. She was raped by an unknown man, but her mother does not believe her.

Two months ago, armed people were nearing her village to attack and most of the villagers fled.

Rose’s mother was in the field planting crops with Rose’s child, and her father was with the cattle in the mountains.

She fled alone, with nothing but the clothes she was wearing, and caught a boat to Sebagoro, Uganda, on the other side of Lake Albert. After four days, her mother arrived with her baby, but she does not know anything about the whereabouts of her father.

Today, she lives with her mother in Uganda, but she does not want to stay with her any longer because there is too much tension regarding the rape. Rose said:

I love my baby, but I have no other choice.

She hopes that CARE will help her find a new place for her and her baby to stay.

Kisembo, 47, and Mapenza, 40: "Our neighbours were killed and our house burned down"

Kisembo and Mapenda watched their neighbours be killed with machetes

Kisembo and Mapenza were surprised when their village was attacked: it was protected by a river, so they thought the attackers would not be able to get to them.

They came at night. Their neighbours were killed with machetes and their houses were burned down.

Kisembo and Mapenza ran for the shore to try to get to Uganda, but one of their five children, their only daughter, was staying in a different village that night, so Kisembo had to try to find her before they left.

Mapenza and his daughter made the journey the following morning, where they were able to reunite with the rest of their family in Sebagoro.

After two months of living in Uganda, they have not even considered returning to DRC.

They have thought about how to keep moving forward, like finding money to send their two oldest sons to secondary school, or to open a small shop since they have no boat to continue the fishing business they had at home.

Roland, 44, and Ani, 36: "We are taking care of three boys who lost their parents"

Roland and Ani are taking care of three children they found when they arrived in Uganda

Roland is a fisherman with four boats and has several people fishing for him. Ani helps him by selling the fish, and supports a local health clinic by giving nutritional advice to pregnant woman.

They have seven children of their own and care for three young boys who they found unaccompanied upon their arrival in Sebagoro landing site.

This was not the first time they had fled the DRC. In 2005 they left their home for safety in Uganda, returning to the DRC in 2009, where they lived until two months ago when they were forced to flee again.

When they fled with one of the fishing boats, they took other people from their village. After arriving in Kyangwali, these villagers gave them three plastic chairs as a gift. 

The plastic chairs are quite valuable for refugees in Kyangwali, as only a few have chairs. They have begun to create a life in their community, and try to make it better. 

Ani volunteers for CARE by raising awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) and helping to identify cases of GBV in her community.

The memories of their home dominate their thoughts, but Roland says he does not want to return. He says he wants to “move to a place further away to forget about their home in the DRC."

Tina, 30: "Before we fled, I prepared fish for my children"

Tina fled to Uganda with nothing but her children

Tina and her husband Ray arrived in Uganda more than a month ago after their village was attacked, and people killed with machetes.

Before the attack, Tina was preparing fish for her children to eat while her husband was in the bush looking for firewood.

When the attackers came, she ran with nothing but her children. She reached the shores of Lake Albert and was taken across to Uganda for free, with her husband following behind and arriving in Sebagoro two weeks later.

They are now looking for a job and waiting for poles from the Ugandan government to build a house for their family.​

Jeremy, 25, and Grace: "We are trying to rebuild our lives in Uganda"

Jeremy and Grace were warned that people were coming to attack their village

Jeremy and Grace are from Tchome in the DRC. They have two children, and Grace is nine months pregnant with her third child.

Before they fled their village for Uganda, they owned a small shop and a boda (taxi) service.

They were prepared to flee, having been warned by friends that the attackers were approaching the village, shooting at people and burning down houses.

They left for the shore, where they loaded the few things they were able to save from their burning home (household items and a boda motorcycle), and made the journey to find refuge.

They have begun to rebuild their lives in Kyangwali, beginning with a simple house to replace the temporary shelter that does not fit their family.

Once the house is finished, the children will return to school, and Isaac hopes to retrieve his boda from the reception centre in the refugee settlement and rebuild his taxi business. 

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.