Frontline Stories

Life at the Refugee Camp in Rwanda

Emilienne is a refugee. Along with her mother, Jeanine, her father, four brothers and a sister, she lives in a newly-constructed refugee camp in Kirehe District, in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. Her family was one of the first to arrive from Burundi, which they fled following the political conflict amid the latest national elections. They have no idea if, or when, they will be able to go home. Since early April 2015, nearly 30,000 people have fled from Burundi to neighbouring Rwanda. 23,700 of them, mostly women and children, are living in this refugee camp.

“It was like a nightmare to us. They showed us a tent, too small for even two people. The small tent was supposed to be our new home for me, my husband and six children. The floor was covered with a plastic mat. We had no mattress, only a few blankets that we received upon arrival. I kept on wondering how we would fit in the small space... What kept me going was the feeling that my family was safe here.” Jeanine says.

Emilienne says that the tents are too cold during the night and too hot during the day. “We get no rest inside the tent during the day. It is too hot. We could only walk around to look for shades under trees,” she says. Her mother concerns the idleness and free movement of children will pose threat to their well-being, especially girls. “As parents, we are worried that these can expose our children to sexual abuse,” Jeanine says.

Jeanine has so much to worry about. The size of the tent has forced her to occasionally send some of the children to neighbours who has a smaller household. This reduces her worries for their safety. From the outside, the tents look big enough to accommodate a small household. But the reality is that each tent is designed to accommodate two households. Inside the tent, a plastic curtain separates the space between the two households, and each space per household is about three square metres.

Her children, especially the younger ones, refuse the only food provided at the camp, maize and beans. “We have no food supplements for the younger children. Sometimes I feed them with only beans for days, as they are unable to eat maize. Sometimes they cry because they're starving,” she says.

She is very concerned about her children’s futures and dreams, especially Emilienne, who was doing so well in primary school back home. “I’m worried about my children’s future; their health, education and safety.” she says.

Emilienne says that she prays every day for peace and political stability in her country. “Every day I ask my mother when we can go home. She always tells me we can’t go back unless there is political stability and peace. I pray every morning and evening before I sleep for peace back home. I want to go back to school, meet my friends, mostly my best friend Devine. I’m sure God will answer my prayer one day,” she says.

World Vision Rwanda is providing water, sanitation and hygiene facilities at the refugee camp, helping to ensure each person is able to access 17 litres of water per day. Our work include construction of toilets, hand washing facilities and showers, and ensuring they are kept clean. World Vision is also training a group of refugees to work as “hygiene promoters” to teach others how to keep good hygiene practices in their new surroundings. World Vision has also handed out potties to households with children under the age of five.

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