The Trials of Thereza, an Urban Refugee in Uganda

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.

The Militia Man That Killed My Husband Wanted Me to Marry Him #WithRefugees

The Militia Man That Killed My Husband Wanted Me to Marry Him #WithRefugees

Before Maombi was displaced from her a village in  Rutshuru region, North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), She had a good life, she and her husband had property, were successful farmers until when her family became a target of a ruthless armed militia that was determined to destroy them. Her only crime was that she was from a different tribe.

“December 2010, the army men raided our home three times; the first time, they robbed our house, looted everything. A week later, took me away, they raped me, tortured me, beat me up and dumped me at a bush near my house. The third raid was on a Sunday evening; this time, they took my husband away. I got worried when he didn’t return home, my neighbours knew what was going on, we began searching for him. On Monday evening after a long day’s search, we found my husband’s body lying lifeless in the bush with what looked like severe torture wounds. I was devastated. On the evening of the burial, an army vehicle came to my compound, the rugged-looking army commander that had captured and killed my husband stepped out, he said that he was asking me to marry him. He said that that he was giving me one week to get back to him with an answer. He pointed at my husband’s fresh grave. “You’ll follow him if you refuse to marry me.”  We were sleeping in the bushes near our home. Two nights later, we heard people coming to our home, I held the younger kids; I told the older ones to run. I hid at my friend’s home overnight. My friend told me about a man that transported goods across the border to Uganda. She asked me not to worry about the two older kids. That she would make sure she gets them someone to bring them to Uganda. She was confident because she was from the tribe that wasn’t being hunted. He agreed to transport us. He put us in his truck with the maize that he was transporting. We reached Kasindi border through Bwera.

At the border, I was quiet, the truck driver is the only one that spoke. I had no paperwork, nothing. I dont know what he said to them but they did not ask me anything. He drove us to Kampala. I wasn’t thinking about my next move when I got to Kampala. He dropped me at the Gaaga bus terminal. I overheard a woman speaking Kiswahili, I walked to her, I told her all my problems. She didn’t know how to help but she told me that she knew a church that had several Congolese refugees. She paid my boda-boda fare. The church received me with open arms. They gave me food and a place for me and my kids to sleep. I asked people to take me to police but many were hesitant, two months later, I got someone that accompanied me to the police station. The police gave me a refugee card and told me to go to the Office of the Prime Minister where I received and an asylum seeker card.

I called Mama Gideon the kind lady that I had met at the Gaaga bus terminal, she was happy to hear from me. I told her that I wanted to start a business but I didn’t have start-up capital. Mama Gideon gave me 100,000 Uganda shillings. I began hawking necklaces around the city. So we formed a group as Congolese women. We started saving. I was able to rent a house in Makindye. Kampala City Council Authority was chasing away all vendors so trading on the streets was proving difficult. It is during this period that I began to feel sick, I didn’t know why because I had always been a strong woman. I went to InterAid because they give free medical care to refugees. After telling them my history, they carried out HIV tests. I tested positive. I couldn’t walk long distances like before, and I was tired of the running battles with KCCA.  So I was not making as many sales as before. At InterAid, they told me about two children that had a story that seemed to fit mine. They showed me their files, they were my children. I was so happy that they had made it. We were reunited.  When the children came, someone at church told me about Jesuit Refugee Council in Nsambya that sponsor children. They help with my kids’ education. I am hopeful that life will change. Life is difficult here, rent is due two months, one of my girls has dropped out of school to help support the family. I just wish they could find us a third country. going back home is not an option because those that tortured us and killed my husband will come for my children.”

Sexual violence has continued to be used as a tool for war, targeting victims on basis of their actual or perceived ethnicity. It has been employed as a tactic, of ethnic hatred, even ethnic cleansing. It is one of the least reported crimes, yet the victims suffer shame, stigma – consequences felt for a lifetime.

But seeking justice is the last thing on Maombi’s mind right now. The daily struggles with poverty in the Ugandan slums are her preoccupation as she seeks to give her children a better life against all odds. She is one of Kampala’s  350,000 registered refugees.

Caught in the middle of a tribal clash, Mweso found himself without a place to call home. #WithRefugees

Caught in the middle of a tribal clash, Mweso found himself without a place to call home. #WithRefugees

Twenty-two-year-old Jacque Mweso fled his hometown Bukavu in 2016, he sought refuge at his uncle’s home in Bigo, Bunia only for him to be caught in a tribal clash that displaced and scattered his remaining family.

“Earlier this year, tribes were fighting; the Bajegere, Bahema and Balendu started killing each other. On the morning of the attack, at around nine, we heard screams across the village, the men were killing everyone that was not of their tribe. We fled in different directions, I joined a large group of people that was fleeing from other villages. For three days and three nights, we walked until we reached the shores of Lake Albert.

We took a boat.

Each one was charged 20,000 Congolese francs. Luckily for me, I had some money in my pocket. We were twenty people on the engine boat. After several hours on the lake, we were on the other side, at Sebagoro in Uganda. At the shores, there was a refugee bureau that received us. The following morning, a bus came for us and we were taken to Kyangwali refugee camp.

At Kyangwali, I was given a piece of land about ten by ten meters, they gave us meals. I was hoping that my uncle would join us soon. My uncle never came. I have never heard from anyone again.

I made a Ugandan friend that came to the camp frequently, he told me about Kampala. I wanted a job. He promised me one. In April, I came to Kampala with my friend. Then I arrived, things were not as clear as I had imagined. Days later, I never saw him again, he had disappeared in Kampala’s large crowds.

Here I was, I don’t know Luganda, neither do I speak English. I tried to speak Kiswahili but almost all the Ugandans I spoke to did not know any Kiswahili. One night I slept on a woman’s veranda here in Katwe, she asked me why I was sleeping outside. I narrated my ordeal. She told me that she knew a church that had many Congolese refugees. She took me to the church. They received me. In my bag, I was carrying a mosquito net that I had been given at the camp. It is one of my few possessions so I thought it was a good idea to add it in my small backpack. The pastor of the church told me that they would offer me a place to sleep. Two months now, I sleep on the floor of the church. I lay my mosquito net on the floor, and I sleep on it. I got a job to work as a porter on a building, the project is complete so the job is over. I am looking for another one. I was studying welding when that clash in my village broke out. I can weld, I can porter at buildings, I can do all sorts of menial work. I am desperately searching. I hope that something will come up soon.


#WithRefugees #WorldRefugeeDay