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SOUTH AFRICA: Marie, “It’s been a long journey and a painful one”
Only one in 10 refugees needing resettlement are eventually resettled
JOHANNESBURG, 1 August 2012 (IRIN) - Marie*, her husband and their three children, refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are about to relocate from South Africa, where they have lived for the past decade, to Australia where they have been accepted into that country’s refugee resettlement programme.
Globally, there are only about 80,000 resettlement
places available each year in 26 countries, meaning that the vast majority of refugees will either remain in camps for long periods, eventually integrate into their host countries or return home.
Marie talked to IRIN about why she and her family have been unable to either return home to DRC or settle in South Africa.
“I grew up with my auntie who married a Rwandese. He was like my father and their kids were my sisters, but they looked Rwandese and it was a time in Congo when there was trouble between Rwandese and Congolese.
“My uncle ran away and my husband and I were taking care of those kids so we were also attacked. We saw people being killed with burning tyres around their necks just because they were Rwandese. This was in Kinshasa but it was happening everywhere.
“We were scattered, but my direction was to save those kids, to get them to family members in Goma. There are many Rwandese in Goma so I thought it would be safer for them, but [the Rwandese there] were informed about their brothers being killed in Kinshasa so they wanted revenge on everyone who came from there. They attacked me in every way you can think about. They put us in prison; their plan was to kill us slowly.
“I managed to escape when the volcano (Mount Nyiragongo) was erupting. I went to Tanzania and then Zambia where I gave birth to my daughter. Then I arrived in South Africa in 2002.
“I didn’t know where my husband was, there was no way for us to communicate. Then we met at [the Department of] Home Affairs in Johannesburg. We were both going for extension to our asylum permits. So we reunited.
“But then one day I discovered my son was bleeding from the mouth. I took him to the hospital and they said they couldn’t help. They knew he had haemophilia, but they chased us away and threatened to call the police.
“We stayed nine months without treatment [for him]. We weren’t working and we didn’t speak English at that time, but I kept taking him back to the hospital. Then JRS [Jesuit Refugee Services] started advocating for us.
“Finally, the hospital agreed [to treat my son], but when we were there, the nurses still let us know we were foreigners and then when my third baby was born with the same problem, they again said they didn’t have medicine.
“By 2007, JRS had been helping us all along, we were burdening them. They forwarded our case to UNHCR. The first time I came there, I talked to a social worker for five hours and she said she’d try to resettle us.
“The first country that came up was the US. They came here to interview us and everything went smoothly but when they discovered the children had haemophilia, we could see their attitude change. After waiting for nearly two years, we were rejected.
“After the US, it was Canada, but after they heard about the kids, they started looking for mistakes in our story, and then they rejected us. That was another one and a half years. I’m a university graduate but I thought I was doing something wrong in the interviews.
“Finally, UNHCR forwarded our case to Australia. It was a year plus some months ago that we had the interview. They looked into the medical issue and said the treatment was expensive, but they talked to UNHCR to try to find a solution. Then we got a call a couple of weeks ago that we’re leaving on 30 July. We’re going to Brisbane, we just heard today. We don’t have any information about it.
“We don’t have anything here in South Africa, so there’s nothing to prepare. We’re not accepted here, nothing was working for us. Sometimes there’s an emergency with the boys. Everywhere you go, you’re watching your phone in case the teacher calls and I have to get to the school. Every time they’re bleeding, they have to give them medication intravenously that costs R2,300 [US$280] and sometimes they don’t have the medication at all.
“I’m so excited to be leaving this country, but it’s been a long journey and a painful one.”
*Not her real name