The Trials of Thereza, an Urban Refugee in Uganda

In a slum in the heart of Nsambya, a suburb in Kampala, lives 53-year-old Thereza. On the day we visited her, we met her three grandchildren, one was carrying a small raggedy mattress, another a charcoal stove on his head, another child, a bundle of clothes on her head. We asked them where they were going to, the kids told us that they were shifting to a new house. It is when we began to talk to Theresa that she told us that she had just been evicted from the house that she had been staying in and that this was a temporary shelter.

“A good person has offered this house for us to occupy in the meantime. It is up for rent, if a tenant shows up, we will have to vacate immediately. We are waiting for InterAid to help us.”

“We fled to Uganda in 2012 our village was attacked by Ntaganda’s rebels. They were recruiting me and my children to join them. I refused to join. They gang-raped me. I was unconscious. They left me, thinking that I was dead. When I regained consciousness, I could not move.  I screamed. Someone heard me and came to rescue me. ” She says with tears running down her face.

Bosco Ntaganda also known as  “Terminator Tango” or “The Terminator” was a leader of NCDP, an armed militia group operating in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was  first indicted in 2006 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity  during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s bloody five-year war.

Victoria sends one of her grandkids to bring her medical forms for me to see. She was diagnosed with severe lower back pain, severe narrowing of the vertebral disc space and vertebrae soft tissues.

“Something is pulling my muscle.” She clenches her teeth.

“I used to sell fish in Katwe market but my health has deteriorated. I can hardly walk.”

This sickness can’t allow her to go and work yet she has ten mouths to feed, her grandkids, two kids of a neighbor that was killed back home, whom she carried along to help.

“My grandkids scavenge around the slum food stalls collecting scraps of food, My girls have started selling their bodies to bring food to the table, the boys that I came with have run away into the city leaving me with the kids. I don’t even know where they are.”

Thereza starts to cry loudly.

“I have told Maria from UNHCR to help me  she said that she would help me but I am still waiting. I am sick. I have no future here. The doctors wrote to them so that they can help me. One day, my daughters carried me to the office but the officers said that I should wait a little longer. What can I do?”

Thereza tells me that she is well aware that all people in the slum she is living in  are struggling.

“But them, when the worst comes to the worst, they go back to their villages,  as for me, I have nowhere to go. Everything I had was taken away from me. I don’t have a home.”

Thereza is an example that the Urban refugee programme in Uganda is stretched. It is clear that Uganda can no longer take care of all the refugees that they take in.

The ratio of refugees to nationals is 1:15 in Kampala and the majority of these refugees originate from  the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Uganda is currently hosting the highest number of refugees this year compared to the past years according to UNHCR the highest number of refugees in Uganda is from South Sudan (1,053,598), DRC (276,570), Burundi, (40,497), others, (37,015), Somalia, (37,193), total refugees in Kampala according to Uganda solidarity summit on refugees is 96,650.

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