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No home for the Congo children

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th August 2003 03:00 AM

THE small scar on her little hand will forever bring back bad memories. Seven-year-old Anna (not real name) was tightly holding onto her mother amidst the fighting.
The attacker showed no mercy. He shot through the little girl’s hand, only to fire through the mother’s chest, leaving her dea

By Joan Mugenzi

THE small scar on her little hand will forever bring back bad memories.

Seven-year-old Anna (not real name) was tightly holding onto her mother amidst the fighting.

The attacker showed no mercy. He shot through the little girl’s hand, only to fire through the mother’s chest, leaving her dead. The little girl saw her mother die.

This experience traumatised Anna so much that five months down the line, she is just learning to trust people, even the little ones around her. She is one of the 25 children at the Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Transit Centre, Rukooki, in Kasese district.

The children have been protesting the suggestion by UNHCR and Save the Children (UK), that they be transferred to the refugees’ camp in Kyaka, Kyenjojo district.

These children argue that if the Uganda authorities want them in Kyaka, they would rather go back to the war-ravaged Congo.

“We don’t want to go to Kyaka. If they want to take us to Kyaka, they would rather let us go back to Congo,” said a 17-year-old girl.

“We can’t live with the people who killed our parents. When we go to the adult camp, one might be given to a Lendu when he or she is Hema. What if such a foster parent poisons the child?” she asks

Their sentiments are echoed even amongst themselves. Those who have been working with the children say it has taken them two months to ensure that children do not focus on their tribal differences.

“Those children were unruly,” reveals one of the volunteers at the centre. “They used to fight everyday accusing each other of coming from the tribe that was terrorising them. We first threatened them with prison before they could turn from their ways.”

Now as they settle, stories about Kyaka are nothing to go by. Eleven-year-old Musa (not real name) will do anything not to go to Kyaka.

“My father and some of my relatives were killed by the Lendu. Rather than go to Kyaka, I will go back to Congo and fight for my people,” he says in Swahili.

Musa was a child soldier for eight months before he was brought to Uganda alongside other children. He spent three months training as a soldier.

Although his mother is alive, he never followed her. “I was frustrated,” he says.

“I saw the people who killed my father and I want to deal with them,” says Musa.

A number of these children came face-to-face with those involved in the war. Their fear is dealing with the past, and the fact that some of the people involved in the atrocities are in Kyaka.

According to the Rukooki Centre supervisor, Yusuf Masereka, the children’s decision to go to the camp followed a team of children that was taken to the camp a few weeks ago.

“When the children went to the camp, they identified some people who had committed atrocities in Bunia. They said there is no way they can integrate with such people,” he says.

One of the children at the centre, a 14-year-old boy, was hacked in the head. He had two operations at Kilembe Hospital. The man who hacked him was cited at the camp. His wound is not completely healed.

“I thought he would not survive. The wound had become septic and he was convulsing,” says Masereka.

The children came to Uganda from Bunia through Kyoma, Kasenyi then Ntoroko Landing Site.

From Ntoroko, they came by boat on Lake Albert. The UPDF soldiers who were coming from Congo helped them out. They got to Uganda at the height of the Hema-Lendu war.

At the centre, they have been undergoing psycho-social counselling so that they can easily fit in society.

The centre was opened to attend to children abducted by the Allied Defence Forces, and those who were unaccompanied.

According to Ben Bantarigaya, the Save the Children (UK) team leader and regional coordinator of the South Western region, after psycho-social counselling which takes about three months, the children have no business at the centre since it is a transit centre.

Discussions for settling these children have been going on, but he says Unicef has been hesitant to have the children go to Kyaka.

“If the children do not want to go to Kyaka because of issues of protection, then we must respect them,” says Damascus Macheri, Unicef Programme officer in charge of South Western region.

Save the Children UK runs the Rukooki Transit Centre with support from Unicef and USAID.

Bataringaya says, “That is underestimating UNHCR. UNHCR has experience in handling children. They have a mother designated to look after children in the camp.”

Save the Children wants the children get an education. “UNHCR can give them education at Kyaka,” says Bataringaya.

But the children who had completed primary education, say they cannot go to Kyaka because even if they did, they will still not access education since there is no secondary school in the camp.

No home for the Congo children

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