One of the refugees, 25-year-old Lulela Heritier from the DRC, arrived at the Musina shelter on 8 April.
Date: 29 June 2019 By: Bernard Chiguvare
Refugees fleeing from the violence that erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may be crossing the South African border in greater numbers. The refugee shelter in Musina already accommodates a large number of DRC citizens, but it may have to prepare for many more.
On Friday, World Refugee Day was celebrated. In Musina, this turned into a festive event, with cultural dances and even a football match at the Skoonplaas Stadium between the Burundi and DRC refugees. The local event was organised by the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Limpopo Provincial Government, Musina Local Municipality, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Department of Home Affairs and Future Families, a non-governmental organisation.
The celebrations started with a fun walk from the refugee shelter at the Musina Ministry of Compassion Church. This shelter accommodates roughly 800 refugees per month, mostly from war-torn countries such as the DRC, Burundi and Somalia.
Earlier this week, the UNHCR spokesperson, Andrej Mahecic, painted a bleak picture of the current situation in the DRC. “Around 7 500 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda since the start of June, placing strain on already badly overstretched facilities. Renewed clashes between opposing Hema and Lendu groups in the north-eastern parts of the DRC are driving people across the border into Uganda,” he said. Recent arrivals speak of extreme brutality. “Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, torching and looting houses, and killing men, women and children,” Mahecic said.
Most people are fleeing to Uganda via Lake Albert from Ituri Province, where displacement since early June is now estimated at 300 000. Not all of the refugees seem to have opted for Uganda and many are fleeing further south.
Benny Mulamba, who comes from the Haut-Katanga province in the south of the DRC, arrived in Musina in May this year. On Friday, he told reporters that he only managed to grab his identity documents before fleeing from the war. In the south the nearest border is Zambia, but Mulamba did not feel safe there. “I found Zambians not very friendly. I could not stay in Zimbabwe because of the economic situation. Zimbabweans themselves are also running away from their country,” he said.
Mulamba survived the long trip by begging for food. In the DRC he was a teacher by profession.
Addressing the refugees and the locals on Friday, Cyril Mudakkalil from the UNHCR pleaded for a spirit of tolerance and a culture of co-existence and peace in societies.
Caspie Tiyani Mawila from the South African Human Rights Commission warned refugees to not pay bribes in order to obtain documents. “We would like to inform you that you are also protected here in South Africa. However, we encourage you to apply for the relevant documents required for your safe stay in the country, but please do not pay bribes to officials,” said Mawila.
Bernard Chiguvare is a Zimbabwean-born journalist. He writes mainly for the online publication, Groundup.