Telling the truth yields relief and vital documents in Burundi

News Stories, 24 April 2013

© UNHCR/H.Simon
A large Congolese family meets UNHCR and Burundian government officials to present their documents at a verification exercise that will give them new identity documents that better protect them.

BWAGIRIZA REFUGEE CAMP, Burundi, April 24 (UNHCR) At first, Congolese refugee Wivine Bahati Mulemaz was apprehensive about the extensive document-checking exercise being carried out by the UN refugee agency and the Burundian government at this camp in eastern Burundi.

"I did not understand because there were refugees who were saying that you [UNHCR] wanted to destroy everything," the petite woman says, smiling broadly. "People were talking about the makanaki people added to ration cards to increase the family size. They were saying the point of the verification was only to reduce the family size."

In a refugee camp where ration cards are literally a meal ticket, Wivine confesses, "I thought that there would be a mess with the ration cards. I thought that they would cut our ration cards."

Flashing another smile, she says that finally, "I understood that the aim of the verification is to correct the mistakes and the lies. I was happy about that. One feels relieved when one can tell the truth. The truth gives us a better life."

A better life and some prized documentation. During the verification campaign, all 43,189 refugees in Burundi are being called to show up with their documents and explain who they are and their relationship to everyone in their family. At the end they come away with valuable government ID cards (complete with hard-to-forge holograms), updated ration cards that will entitle them to food in the camps, and a new family document with photos of all family members.

All these add up to better protection. Refugees can not only prove who they are and safeguard against being deported if they are outside the camps, the exercise also ensures that refugees with special needs children on their own or people with disabilities get the services they should have.

The campaign kicked off in Bwagiriza in March and will wrap up in the capital, Bujumbura, in September.

Wivine was especially grateful for a UNHCR-run information campaign that preceded the document-checking. She admits she was so confused she attended three information sessions in different "villages" in the camp just to figure out what to expect and what to do.

Part of the campaign was a skit composed and acted by Congolese refugees in which a young man confessed to having illegally registered a Burundian child on his ration card. He fell to his knees, saying God had told him to come clean because he recognized that receiving extra food amounted to theft. A second actor, playing a pastor, offered absolution as long as he told the truth during the verification exercise.

It seemed to have had an effect on Isaac Semuhanuka, a 49-year-old Congolese refugee teacher. He came forward to remove his sister's child from his ration card because she does not live in the camp. "I was the one who wanted to say that the child is not here and that it had to be deactivated," he says, adding he no longer wanted to accept food for someone who was no longer in the camp.

The verification campaign, he adds, "allows us to tell the truth and to be open." Recalling that during the information campaign UNHCR officers stressed the importance of telling the truth, Isaac says: "The fact that we can tell the truth also relieves us."

After queuing and returning several times, Wivine had a tangible pay-off for her time and her honesty. She came away with a refugee card, ration card and a proof of registration the last was a new document for her.

A married woman, Wivine has four children and also takes care of three of her relatives' children. The new documents, she feels, bring them all an added sense of security. "If someone bothers me, I can show him this," she says, waving her refugee card.

It's just as well, because after the trauma she suffered when she left the violence of South Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1996, she feels "I have no home there. I think I will be a refugee until I die."

By Hannah Simon and Tony Tumagu in Bwagiriza Refugee Camp, 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

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