Fatou’s story: Searching for safety in the DRC
A surge in violence in eastern DR Congo has forced tens of thousands of people to flee. Many, like Fatou, have arrived in the Kibati camp on the edge of Goma.
In late June, Fatou, her husband and three children escaped their terrorised town of Kalengera and hid in the bush, taking with them only the clothes on their backs.
“People were being tortured and killed, women raped and children taken. We were scared of bandits, of being executed or burnt alive in our home,” she says.
“We thought we might be safer in the forest and at least that way we could try to stop our children being kidnapped. In the evenings we headed back to our fields to quickly harvest something to eat, then went home to cook, but just for an hour or so – we could not risk being home any longer. Then we headed back to the forest where we tried to sleep.”
Two weeks later, Fatou decided to flee the increasing violence and joined the waves of people heading towards Goma, the capital of North Kivu.
“We were lucky – my three children, my husband and I managed to get on a truck heading out of our town. My brothers squeezed in too.”
Fatou tells us that all of a sudden the truck was stopped by rebel groups. The few belongings they had managed to take were brutally taken from them.
“Then, the rebels started to force all the young men out of the truck, threatening them with guns. My three young brothers were taken. We have not heard from them since. Our neighbours told us that the few who stayed in Kalengera, young children included, have been abducted and recruited for combat.”
There are thousands of people with similar stories in Kibati camp – now sheltering up to 50,000 people who have arrived in recent weeks, fleeing the violence and numerous armed groups that control territory across eastern DRC.
Conditions in the camp are extremely difficult. “When we arrived my youngest child fell sick with malaria. We were not able to get the help she needed. She died here,” she says with a look of disbelief in her eyes.
In a small shelter in the middle of the camp, strung together with sticks and a sheet of tarpaulin, Fatou speaks of her fear of returning home, of reprisals and of being attacked
“We were considering going home because we think we will starve to death here. My husband goes to try to find work and we sometimes manage to eat a little at night, but sometimes we do not. But we are scared of returning. I am afraid of being raped and my husband being snatched from us to fight for the rebels. Even here in the camp people are being attacked. We are not safe anywhere. We are frightened that we will be the next victims of the war. What if the rebels advance to Kibati? We live every day in terror. When I go to chop down wood from outside the camp I am scared of being raped. But what choice do I have? How else can we get fuel to cook?”
I ask Fatou who should protect her. “Only God can protect us now, I do not think anyone else can – they have not so far,” she says.
Oxfam teams are trucking clean water into Kibati, and constructing latrines to improve sanitation in the camp.
Photos: Oxfam's work in eastern DRC
Oxfam briefing: "For me, but without me, is against me": Why efforts to stabilize the Democratic Republic of Congo are not working (pdf 957kb, 4 July 2012)