Repeat journey for Burundian refugee who fled militia

Ngendakumana Désiré, with wife Geneviève and daughter Félicité, is back in Tanzania for the second time in his life. Photo: Gilles Ouedraogo
Ngendakumana Désiré, with wife Geneviève and daughter Félicité, is back in Tanzania for the second time in his life. Photo: Gilles Ouedraogo

Family sheltering in LWF-supported camp in Tanzania

BUJUMBURA, Burundi/GENEVA – 9 June 2015 (LWI) - Ngendakumana Désiré is 26 years old and for the second time in his life, is a Burundian refugee in Tanzania.

The first time, he explains, was immediately after President Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated in 1993. Désiré was very young then but his family deemed it better to seek refuge in neighboring Tanzania than attempt to live out the atrocities that would follow. They were right. They remained refugees in Tanzania for 12 years, as a long war continued to decimate thousands of their countrymen.

Finally, when the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement was signed in 2000, Désiré and his family believed they were safe and returned home a few years later.

By then a young man, Désiré was as shocked as his parents to find their plot of land in Kabunga, in the southern-most province of Burundi, had been occupied. Despite their attempts to regain their land through the authorities, they failed and were left homeless in their own country. The family was then housed by friends in a compound for the years that followed. Désiré started a business as a market trader and started a family in 2013.

Today, Désiré, his wife Geneviève and their nine–month-old daughter, Félicité, share a tent with another family in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Tanzania, just south of the border with Burundi and inland from Lake Tanganyika. It is here that the Lutheran World Federation provides refugee families with household goods, clothes, mosquito nets and basic water, sanitation and hygiene amenities.

Désiré explains that in the wake of the election period this February, the governing party’s youth militia, Imbonerakure, told him to enlist with them or risk the consequences of not doing so. The Imbonerakure had been known to carry out atrocities to intimidate youth into joining them.

Désiré thought that remaining neutral would be best for him and his young family but was proven wrong when one night in April, he was taken and forced to join the group or be killed on the spot. Désiré had no choice but to feign acceptance and request permission to say goodbye to his family as his wife did not know where he was. He seized that chance to flee with his wife and daughter, and never looked back.

On 4 May, Désiré and his family boarded a ferry for Tanzania to again become refugees. They arrived at port of Kagunga three hours later where they found thousands of other people who, just like them, had decided to flee the looming threat of the Imbonerakure.

Two days later, they were taken to the Tanzania port town, Kigoma, identified, registered and immediately taken to Nyarugusu, where they were placed in a temporary reception center, the local primary school. On May 26, they were finally taken to their shared tent in Zone 8 where they have been living since.

Désiré says that if given the chance, he would like to either farm the land or get the means to start a business and provide for his family. He reports that unfortunately he feels more certain about a future in Tanzania than his hostile, native Burundi.

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