Tanzania - Refugees keep in touch with their families
Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing armed conflicts in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda have found refuge in western Tanzania. Currently about 500,000 refugees, including 125,000 Congolese, live in camps in this area. Thanks to the ICRC and the Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS) they can stay in touch with their families by exchanging Red Cross Messages. The Red Cross also works to reunite separated refugee families, and the ICRC supports hospitals in Western Tanzania which care for war-wounded refugees.
Extracts from RCMs written by Congolese refugees to their families in the DRC:
My husband, how are you? If you are fine, that is good...We are all OK here in Lugufu camp in Tanzania. Bety has three children now. Greetings from your wife .
Josephine, writing to her husband in Lubumbashi, DRC.
My beloved brother, greetings to you wherever you are. We are fine at the moment, but for the future only God knows...The sad news is that Salima, the daughter of Uncle Polo, died in March...My wife delivered a baby called Ekyoci Denise...We will hear more from each other soon.
Kilozo, a refugee at Nyarugusu camp, writing to his brother in Buta, DRC
" I came here in 1999 with 12 members of my family but some of my brothers and sisters, the extended family, they are still back home. We just want to let them know that we are alive and well and find out how they are. " For now, Benjamin Rajabo, one of the 85,000 Congolese refugees living in Lugufu camp in Western Tanzania, is safe even though his life in a small hut in the camp, depending on relief food, is far from easy. However, like millions of other refugees and displaced persons across the world, Benjamin also needs certainty, the knowledge that his loved ones back home are alive and well. For the refugees at Lugufu Camp, Red Cross Messages often represent the only chance of contact with the world they had to leave behind.
Red Cross Messages also play an important part in efforts to reunite separated children with their families. Frequently, an exchange of messages marks the first resumption of contact between a refugee child and his relatives back in the home country or living in one of the other refugee camps. If both sides agree the Red Cross tries to facilitate the family reunification, always provided that the region and country the child will live in are safe enough - which is unfortunately still not the case for many parts of Burundi and the DRC.
The wounds of war
They have been shot at, bombed and shelled. Some have lost limbs, others have had a part of their face blown away by a bullet or a shell fragment. The bodies and lives of thousands of Burundians have been destroyed by the civil war which, despite recent peace efforts, continues to wreak havoc in the central African country. Notwithstanding their misery, some of the war-wounded could be called'lucky'- often under the most difficult circumstances they have managed to cross the border to Heri Mission Hospital in Tanzania where they are cared for with the support of the ICRC. Yet, no one knows how many others are left behind without the medical help they need.
The war in Burundi is an everyday reality at Heri Hospital, located barely three kilometres from the border. " At night, we often hear the sound of gunfire and bombing from across the border " , says Dr. Gerson Araujo Jr., a Brazilian surgeon who has worked at Heri for nearly a year. The war victims from Burundi commonly occupy about a third of the hospital's 100 beds and many of them have to wait a long time before they can be operated on: " Their wounds are often highly infected because they have to hide for days before they can cross the border, " explains Dr. Gerson. " With these cases, we have to give them antibiotics for the infection to die down before we can do surgery. "
Looking for care
The ICRC helps Heri hospital by paying for the treatment of war-wounded patients and supplying drugs and medical materials - essential support for a facility which relies mainly on charitable donations. Occasionally, the ICRC also transports patients to Heri, such as sixteen-year old Erik and his fourteen-year old cousin Jamal. Although originally from Burundi, the two lived in the Baraka region of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both were shot in the legs during recent fighting. " At first they were treated locally but by someone who was not a medical professional " , explains the ICRC's Head of Office for Kigoma, Gideon Emmanuel. " But when their wounds did not get any better, their families decided they had to go to Tanzania. "
On arrival in the Kigoma area of Tanzania, Erik and Jamal were helped by the International Rescue Committee, which then handed them over to the ICRC for treatment at Heri Mission Hospital. Although their wounds are not life-threatening they will probably have to spend some months there.
Heri Mission Hospital is one of three medical facilities supported by the ICRC in western Tanzania. These hospitals and their committed staff ensure that war wounded refugees can get the surgery they need for their physical injuries. However, even after the pain subsides the refugees still have to deal with the mental anguish of being far away from home and their families. For them too, Red Cross Messages will likely play an important part in keeping alive their connection with those they had to leave behind.