A new year in a new country for Congolese refugees in UgandaClose to 5,000 Congolese refugees have arrived in Uganda throughout the past two weeks. They have fled from violence and conflict but in Kayaka II settlement many are already preparing themselves for a new life with the help of DRC.
Nizeyi Byamungu, 27, knew that militias lurked about in the forests of the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he did not ever think that the armed groups would one day force him to flee his home or that the new year would find him in a foreign land, as a refugee with an uncertain future.
Byamungu, until recently a primary school teacher and student at a teacher- training college in the town of Rutshuru in the North Kivu region, had instead looked at his future with optimism.
"I was looking forward to completing my teacher-education training, carrying on with my teaching career, marrying a wife, having children and building a house," he said from Kyaka II refugee settlement shortly after receiving an assortment of basic items from the Danish Refugee Council to begin a new home in Kakoni, one of the nine zones that make up the 81.5 km² Kyaka settlement.
Then one night, only one and half weeks ago, his dream was shattered.
"They came and set my [rented] house on fire," he said: "I escaped empty-handed through the window of my house—that is how I now find myself in Uganda, in Kyaka."
Nizeyi Byamungu, a former primary school teacher, is provided with basic items by DRC to start a new life in Kyaka II refugee settlement. PHOTO: DRC
Kyaka II located in Kyegegwa district in South western Uganda was established by the Ugandan government in 1984 to host refugees from Rwanda. However, because of the seemingly unending series of crisis in Eastern Congo the majority of its refugee population today is Congolese.
The Danish Refugee Council, the main implementing partner to UNHCR in Kyaka, has been working here since 2013 offering services in protection, livelihoods, shelter management and water and sanitation to the refugees.
Kyaka’s population has been on the rise in the past two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s due to renewed outbreak of localized violence and conflict in the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to UNHCR, the most recent influx of Congolese refugees in Uganda began on 19th December 2017. From the 27th to the 29th of December 732 new arrivals crossed into Uganda, bringing the total number of Congolese refugees in the country since 19th December to 4,667. Most of these were relocated to Kyangwali in Hoima district in western and to Kyaka II.
'Life can be good'
On a baking hot Saturday afternoon, the reception centre at Kyaka II was a beehive of activities as DRC teams worked to relocate new arrivals to their plots of land.
"The refugees spend one night at the reception centre before being assisted to relocated to the refugee villages to begin a new life on land provided to them by the Ugandan government," said Boroa Amato, the Danish Refugee Council’s Emergency Team Leader in Kyaka.
At Kakoni Zone where Byamungu, the now former primary school teacher from Rutshuru was relocated. Refugees who have lived longer in Kyaka had quickly set up a market to sell food—bananas, fish, cassava, vegetables and maize flour-- to the new arrivals.
"I was like them [new arrivals] when I first came to Kyaka three years ago," said Sullange Ange, 23, one of the vendors at the makeshift market.
"When I saw the refugees come, I saw an opportunity to sell them food."
Like many of the fresh arrivals, Sullange Ange is also from North Kivu.
"I have been in Kyaka for the last five years," said Melve Christine, 28, a vendor of vegetables.
"If you can get some money, life here in Kyaka can be good. Our new brothers and sisters must think of ways of working to get more food and money," she advised.
It is dry season in most parts of Uganda. Kyaka is no exception. The stems of harvested maize stand dry in gardens as their owners await the rainy season to plant the next crops. The dry season is used by farmers to dry agricultural products like maize, cassava and beans.
In most compounds in Kyaka, maize seeds and cassava can be seen spread out on compounds. As the new refugees are transported in lorries to their new locations, they often mistake the farms and agricultural products in the compounds as belonging to Uganda nationals.
"When we tell them the gardens belong to refugees like themselves, they ask: "You mean we shall also be like that?" said Pamella Taaka, DRC’s Community Development Assistant in Kyaka.
Farming is an important source of livelihoods for the refugees in Kayaka II settlement. Many places you can spot maize lying on the ground to dry and sell on at the local market. PHOTO: DRC
Ready for a safe new years celebration
With only a day to enter 2018, with the future seemingly uncertain for the new residents of Kyaka, the more settled refugees were talking about how to usher in the new year, giving hope to the new residents.
"When I arrived here two years ago I had nothing. But now I have something. The visitors will manage," said Bahati Steven, 22.
Bahati and a group of his friends plan to celebrate the New Year with drinks, and eats and dance.
"We will eat meat, drink Bushera [a local drink] and dance to Werrason’s 'Techno Malewa'," said the 22- year old.
Werrason is a Congolese singer.
"Him [Werrason] and Fally Ipupa [another Congolese singer] are the hottest boys in Kinshasa.’’
Mother of six Goretti Ange, 40, is also looking forward to 2018.
"We are going to celebrate as usual. But when I arrived in Kyaka 5 years ago, there was no celebration because I had nothing. But now I sell carrots, fish and cabbages in the market."
When the new refugees arrive, they are tired and with fresh memories about what caused their fleeing, according to Pamella Taaka, the DRC Community Development Assistant. But as time passes by, adds Taaka, the new refugees interact among themselves, with the more settled refugees, the host communities and pick on with their new life.