Congo refugees recount murder and rape by soldiers back home
Every family is provided with 400 grammes of maize and 600 grammes of rice daily
For those in the Zambian camp, priorities are safety and getting enough to eat
Recounting horrific stories of rape and murder by government soldiers, thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have sought safety on the Zambian side of Lake Mweru.
About 6,000 Congolese have fled across the border since August, triggering an emergency response from the UNHCR, which has struggled to provide food and shelter.
DR Congo’s huge eastern region has long been wracked by violence, but fighting between soldiers and militia groups as well as inter-ethnic clashes, has increased this year.
The UNHCR says the unrest has caused the largest influx into Zambia for the past five years, with many refugees blaming DR Congo President Joseph Kabila’s troops for the worst of the violence.
“I saw a pregnant woman being raped, her stomach ripped open and the baby killed before they killed her,” Kaimba Kazili, 39, a peasant said at Kenani transit camp in Nchelenge, northern Zambia.
“It is not safe to live in Congo any more because soldiers are killing people.”
On her journey to the camp, Kazili gave birth to triplets Ari, Kalangila and Kanaila — two boys and a girl — on August 20, before she arrived in Zambia on September 14.
“It was not an easy thing but luckily we found a man driving a minibus who gave us a lift,” said Kazili, originally from Kivu.
The triplets were shown to Zambian President Edgar Lungu when he visited the camp last week accompanied by UNCHR officials and journalists.
But Lungu had an uncompromising message for the refugees.
“You have run away from lawlessness, so don’t bring lawlessness here,” he said.
“We have laws which should be obeyed by everyone. If you break the law, we will jail you and send you back to Congo upon release.”
Despite Lungu’s harsh words, Pierrine Aylara, the UNHCR head in Zambia, told the president that she wanted “to applaud your hospitality towards those displaced by war and conflict”.
For those in the camp, the only priorities have been their safety and getting enough to eat.
“Thank God I arrived safely with my husband and the four children,” said Mauno Rukogo, 42. “I will never go back to Congo. Kabila’s government was supposed to protect citizens but is killing people.”
Rukogo said she had been repeatedly displaced in DR Congo, where the eastern region has been roiled by conflict for more than two decades, before she fled to Zambia on September 9.
The UNCHR said the refugees fled inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the army and militia groups, particularly in Haut Katanga and Tanganyika provinces since the end of August.
Earlier this year, security worsened sharply in the Pweto area of Haut Katanga, which shares a border with Zambia.
Many refugees said they feel safer in Zambia but though food was scarce.
“We are also asking for clinics for the children,” Rukogo added, with rampant malaria and diarrhoea posing major health problems.
The UNHCR has set up tents and grass-thatched shelters at the 56-hectare site, as well as sunk two boreholes and nearly 300 pit latrines.
An agency official said every family was provided with 400 grammes of maize and 60 grammes of rice as well as other food supplies a day.
“I managed to run away with my three children after seeing my wife being killed by government troops,” said Minga wa Minga, a 40-year-old teacher.
“I had to keep going until I found some Congolese heading to Zambia. The UN has described the situation as a humanitarian crisis but let it do something to stop Kabila from destroying our country.”
Kabila failed to step down after his second and final term last December.
Elections were re-scheduled for this year, but have now been announced for December 2018.
DR Congo’s military spokesman in Kinshasa could not be reached for comment on the refugee’s accusations. (AFP)