As the most vulnerable, women and children often feel the biggest burden of war and displacement. Consequently, most of the residents of Nyarugusu are women and children. We were immediately welcomed by the massive crowds of children running alongside the bus to greet us. They were very excited to see visitors since they do not receive much guests and life in the camp can be very lonely especially since school is out of session and there are not enough child friendly play area.
The camp only had 16 schools for a population of 30,000 children, 14 of which were primary schools and only 2 secondary. The arrival of an additional 35,000 Burundians has stretched the camp’s population to over 100,000, double the camp’s maximum capacity. They were initially placed in schools, churches and playgrounds but once these facilities became overcrowded emergency mass tents were built. As a result, the school has been closed. With no school and not enough playgrounds, the children are often idle in the camps. Fortunately, new play areas have been cleared. I was fortunate enough to witness a game of soccer organized by the older boys.
Visitors symbol hope for the children as it is the only way that the international community can be made aware of the needs of the refugees. However, I must say that personally feel powerless. While at the camp I often asked myself what can I do to alleviate the suffering of these children but is still to find the answer. The needs are so dire and widespread that I would need access to millions to dollars to make a difference. It is estimated that it costs about $1 million USD to keep a refugee camp operating.
It was actually very sad leaving the camp on the last day of our visit. The emergency situation in the camp was a lot of absorb but the most traumatizing part for me was not knowing what is going to become of the children.
The most upsetting part is that most of these children are in a sense stateless. Even though, they were born in Tanzania they are not considered Tanzanians because their parents are refugees. This is particularly disturbing because most of the residents who are 18 and younger were born in the camps, have never been to the DRC and are only familiar with Tanzania. Even the adults who fled the country almost twenty years identify with being Tanzanian because they have assimilated and have lost touch with what is going on in the country. Many of them have no family or assets to return to.
The United States has agreed to resettle 30,000 Congolese who are unable to return for political reasons or are likely to be killed,however, this is a three to five year process as refugees are prepared for life in the U.S. One of the Congolese Leaders expressed his frustration and called for peace and for the younger generation that will be relocated to the U.S. to educate themselves and rebuild the country peacefully. He also express that he would like to leave the camps and either be resettled ore repatriated, any form of movement because he is tired of being trapped in the camp with no progress being made.
This was truly a humbling experiencing for me. It has inspired to want to gain field experience working with refugees as there is tremendous need.
Links to my previous posts about Nyarugusu: