• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Refugee band sounds a positive note for truth-telling in Burundi

News Stories, 19 March 2013

© UNHCR/K.McKinsey
Congolese refugees in Burundi present a skit as part of a mass information campaign ahead of a verification exercise to be conducted in late March by UNHCR and the government.

BWAGIRIZA REFUGEE CAMP, Burundi, March 19 (UNHCR) It was a strange and gripping scene as the young man confessed to falsifying his documents, fell to his knees, promised to reform and received forgiveness all in the space of 15 minutes and in front of a large crowd as well as UNHCR and government staff.

That's what happened recently at this refugee camp set in the rolling green hills of eastern Burundi as part of a performance and information campaign ahead of a countrywide data-checking exercise slated to start later this month.

In the skit, presented by refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who are also members of a performance group called New Vision, our transgressor admits to having illegally registered a Burundian child on his ration card. But now God has told him to come clean, and he recognizes that receiving extra food amounts to theft. A second actor, playing a pastor, offers absolution if he tells the truth during the data-checking exercise.

"We're trying to get across information in the form of simple, positive messages," explained Hannah Simon, a young Swiss UNHCR associate protection officer. "There will be a verification, everyone has to come, it's good for you, and it's good for us." A key point is that renewal of the refugees' vital government-issued ID cards depends on the verification exercise.

More than 10,000 Congolese refugees live in the neat rows of mud-daub houses at Bwagiriza, outside the provincial capital Ruyigi, where Simon and her colleagues are based. It's been several years since the last verification, and UNHCR and the government refugee agency ONPRA say they need fresh data to understand better who the refugees are and how best to direct assistance.

Most of the refugees fled fighting and insecurity in the DRC, but family members may sometimes return there to visit or work, or have moved to Burundi's cities and towns. And of course children are born in the camp, as was evidenced by the number of pregnant women, women cradling infants, and toddlers taking in the performance.

The data-checking exercise in Bwagiriza includes the information campaign, family interviews and document renewals. And UNHCR staff hope it will serve as a model for subsequent verifications at the Kinama and Musasa refugee camps in Burundi where as many as 9,000 refugees live in the capital, Bujumbura, as well as throughout the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region.

That's where the novelty of the attention-grabbing street theatre and a Congolese-style song by the New Vision group come in. "Dear friends, brothers and sisters," sang New Vision's Neema Yvette Bahaya in a rich voice. "You have to be verified in order to be positive . . . you have to come with your family and your documents." But the song and UNHCR's messages contain warnings, too that refugees who fail to attend the verification risk having their assistance cut off.

Among the hundreds of refugees who braved the hot sun to take in the performances was 18-year-old Kennedy Muhindo-Rosumba."The song was well written and delivered the information in an interesting way," he said. "It was effective how it mixed French and Kiswahili, since that's what we're used to in Congo."

A question-and-answer session followed, and it was clear some refugees were worried about relatives who are in hospital or jail. Simon assured that UNHCR is taking care of them and that they are exempt from attending the data-checking exercise. But she took a firmer stance on the many questions about children living, and perhaps attending school, away from the camp. "Your children are your responsibility," she told the refugees. "It's the role of the head of the family to bring the whole family for verification."

UNHCR expects the exercise to last approximately six weeks. And with the start-date fast approaching, staff are fine tuning their messages and the ways they deliver them, including through a proposed poster contest. In part by consulting with the refugees themselves, particularly refugee women, UNHCR staff members are aiming like the New Vision musicians to hit the right note.

By Daniel MacIsaac in Bwagiriza, Burundi




Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek SafetyPlay video

Tanzania: Fleeing Burundi, Refugees Seek Safety

He used to fix broken bicycles in Burundi, but as political troubles and killings mounted Nestor Kamza decided to flee. In search of safety he and his family walked non-stop for 24-hours until they reached Tanzania. His family is among more than 100,000 people who have fled from political violence in Burundi and arrived in the Nyarugusu camp which has almost tripled in size. To alleviate overcrowding in the camp, UNHCR and its partners have planned to open three new camps and have started moving tens of thousands of Burundian refugees to a new, less congested, home
Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.