Most of us barely give a second thought to our birthplace. The question, “Where were you born?” is often followed by an answer naming a town or hospital. Imagine however, that you were born in a refugee camp which itself is not really in a town nor near a hospital. Such is the situation of more than 810 children who were born since 2010 in one of three refugee camps in Burundi housing Congolese refugees who have fled violence in their country.
Quite literally, these children are born refugees and are blissfully unaware of the security problems that continue in their homeland. For them, the refugee camp is home where they play along the dusty paths that intertwine between the hastily constructed mud brick homes with blue tarps for windows. Young and old, each group of children has their own way of staying entertained whether it is playing with model cars cobbled together from bottle caps and wire or participating in a pick-up game of soccer on the camp’s mostly mud pitch.
One day, however, the children may realize the sacrifices made by their parents. These sacrifices were often made for their sake. Dominique, a refugee and mother in Bwagiriza camp since 2009, said the reason her family fled the region of Uvira in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was to protect her children. “Rebel groups in the area were taking the older children and recruiting them as soldiers. They also attacked the younger girls and were constantly threatening my husband. In the end, we decided to leave using any means possible”. Dominique was also pregnant at the time and gave birth to her son at the health center located directly in the camp. Each camp has a health center managed by the local health services in coordination with UNHCR and its partners.
All refugees receive WFP food assistance which consists of beans, maize meal, salt, vegetable oil, super cereal (corn soya mix for children) and sugar. WFP food assistance reaches 20,000 refugees in the camps throughout Burundi. Most of the refugees are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For most refugees like Dominique, their only hope is to one day return to their land of origin. In the meantime, UNHCR, the Government of Burundi, WFP and its partners ensure a basic standard of living is upheld in the camps by ensuring personal security and supplying medical services, education and food assistance.
There is hope. In 2010, 278 families were repatriated to the Congo and in 2011, 41 families have already returned home. Even though this remains a small number, continuing efforts to create peace in the region are succeeding slowly but surely.