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Rwanda: Lonely Congolese refugee finds new purpose serving travellers

Telling the Human Story, 18 June 2014

© UNHCR/S.Camia
Emmanuel Kabumba stands just outside the reception area at his new place of employment. A refugee from North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Emmanuel began working at the hotel in February 2014.

BYUMBA, Rwanda, June 18 (UNHCR) Emmanuel Hakizimana Kabumba never stops moving. As the new front desk manager at a hotel in northern Rwanda, he's a blur of activity as he welcomes guests with a wide natural smile, carries their luggage to their rooms, and advises them on where to get the best deal on local handicrafts.

The job is a huge achievement for Emmanuel, just 25. The young man beat out more than three dozen Rwandan applicants for the position, despite just weeks of training in a six-month hospitality programme. He is also the first refugee the hotel has hired to manage the front desk. Rwanda's government allows refugees to leave refugee camps to find work, but not all are as successful as Emmanuel.

Refugee or not, it wasn't difficult for the hotel's management to decide he should get the job. He scored 95 per cent on the final test for the position, which involved answering questions in four languages: English, French, Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili. The second candidate scored just 53 per cent.

"I was emotional. I cried," he recalls of the moment he discovered the result. "I said, 'Please God, the glory is for you, because now I can help my family.'" Emmanuel's new found pride is reflected in the ever-present gap-toothed grin on his face that belies a lifetime of loneliness.

"My past was only sadness," he says softly. "Life was not easy." Emmanuel arrived in Rwanda at the age of eight completely alone. His parents had been killed in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A friend's mother took him in, but even surrounded by people, he still felt lonely.

"My adopted mother always said, 'You know Emmanuel, even though I adopted you, my husband's family is not happy with you.'" Emmanuel says he was ostracized and constantly reminded that he did not belong. His adoptive parents also blamed him for their eventual separation. "I always asked myself, 'Why am I alone? Why don't I have anyone?'"

Books became his comfort during his years at boarding school. "That's where my real life was," he says. During his time at school, he rarely returned to Gihembe Refugee Camp, where he still lives today.

As he dived into education, other opportunities arose. After secondary school, a job as a translator changed his life. For the first time, he met people from around the world and his confidence grew as he was able to use his languages to communicate. He had no idea how far his fluency in English, French and Kiswahili would take him.

"There is a proverb in English that says nothing happens by chance," he says, looking back on that period of his life.

Emmanuel now divides his time between his work at the hotel and heart-warming hours at home with his wife Alice, whom he married last year, and their baby daughter, Erica. "They give me great comfort," he says.

"Emmanuel is a shining example of how refugees can contribute to the communities where they find refuge," says Francois Abiyingoma, associate programme officer in UNHCR's Rwanda office. "Normally refugees prefer to go back home. But since that is not possible for every refugee, in recent years the UN refugee agency has been working with governments to find other solutions. Allowing refugees like Emmanuel to work not only boosts their individual dignity, it also helps host countries."

As his work day ends, and the sun begins to set, Emmanuel checks the time. Soon he must return to the refugee camp for the night. But with his wife and daughter waiting there for him, Gihembe camp no longer represents a childhood of solitude. "I don't feel alone now," he says with his trademark smile.

By Shirley Camia in Byumba, Rwanda

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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

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

Edwige Kpomako is a woman in a hurry; but her energy also helps the refugee from Central African Republic (CAR) to cope with the tragedy that forced her to flee to northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year. Before violence returned to her country in 2012, the 25-year-old was studying for a Masters in American literature in Bangui, and looking forward to the future. "I started my thesis on the works of Arthur Miller, but because of the situation in CAR . . . ," she said, her voice trailing off. Instead, she had to rush to the DRC with a younger brother, but her fiancée and 10-year old son were killed in the inter-communal violence in CAR.

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American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

Edwige Deals With Loss by Keeping Busy and Aiding Others in Mole Camp

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