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Violence in eastern Congo has displaced millions of people. Some end up at this camp


More than 1 million people have been forced to flee their homes in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in the last two years due to worsening violence. It's a conflict with a legacy tied to the Rwandan genocide 30 years ago. The Congolese army is fighting M23. That's a rebel group that the U.S. and U.N. say is backed by Rwanda. The Rwandan government, though, denies this. Aid groups, including the U.N. Refugee Agency, warn of a severe humanitarian crisis, and U.S. officials say the conflict has the potential to spill over into a fully fledged regional war. About a half hour's drive from the Rwandan border with the DRC, we visit a refugee camp where thousands are seeking shelter and safety.

DAVID RUSANJONGA: Many of the people, their houses back in DRC were burned or destroyed. Even if it ends today, they have nowhere to go back anyway. If they go back, they have to start from zero.

SUMMERS: That's David Rusanjonga, the manager at Nkamira Transit Center. The first thing I notice as we drive through the gates is that there are children everywhere. Rusanjonga tells us that of the more than 6,000 people currently living here, roughly two-thirds are children.

RUSANJONGA: They come in alone, either separated or unaccompanied children. They separated with their parents back in DRC. They don't know where they are. They don't know whether they're alive or not. Sometimes by chance, parents come later. They get unified.

SUMMERS: Children attend school here, and more than 200 crowd onto cloth floor mats inside a big temporary building.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in non-English language).

SUMMERS: The goal is for people to live at this camp temporarily before being relocated to other refugee camps across the country. But Rusanjonga says some people now must stay longer because camps are full and there's just nowhere else for them to go.

In the kitchen, workers are figuring out how to feed thousands of people. Outside, there are dozens of brightly colored plastic buckets full of warm rice.

So we've just walked into the kitchen here at the transit center, and I can actually feel the heat coming off of the burners as a number of men are preparing rice and beans.

For a sense of scale, one pot holds 330 pounds of beans.

Walking along the shelter where the most recent arrivals are housed, we meet 27-year-old Sylvie Migabo.

SYLVIE MIGABO: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: She says, "my husband was killed in the fighting, so I went to the Congolese city of Goma. I wanted to stay, but I was told that it would be safer for me in Rwanda because of my family's ethnic ties."

As we talk, three of her young children peer out from behind her. She's carrying an infant on her back.

MIGABO: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: She says, "it's much better here than where I was. At least it's peaceful. I'm not afraid that someone can come and kill me."

At the same building, we meet another woman. Her name is Yvette Kamariza, and she and her six children fled the DRC on foot. I asked her when she knew it was time to leave, and she says it was when soldiers came to her home, and they took her cows.

YVETTE KAMARIZA: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: She says, "when they took the cows, I thought, it's over, because the next time, it won't be the cows. I thought they would come for me and my children." As we talk, it's raining, and Yvette is wrapping herself in a purple and yellow plaid blanket.

KAMARIZA: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: "I'm happy now that I'm here," she says. "I slept well last night, and I was given food and a blanket and a mat to sleep on, and I no longer hear the sounds of bullets and gunshots." Now, she says she feels like her life and her children's lives can continue.

David Rusanjonga, the camp manager who's been showing us around, tells us that every time new refugees arrive, workers do everything in their power to help care for them. What they can't do, though, he says, is change what's happening across the border in the DRC. And if that doesn't change, he says, people will continue to flee.

RUSANJONGA: This will require a collective responsibility, especially the international community. If they leave it to DRC alone or Rwanda alone, I don't expect much to be done.

SUMMERS: Rusanjonga says there needs to be an international response, but he is not expecting much because refugees have been crossing into Rwanda for three decades, and many of them are still here.


That was our co-host Juana Summers reporting from Rwanda, where 30 years ago, a genocide killed nearly 1 million people. Juana and a team from NPR traveled across the country to see how Rwanda's been shaped by those events. And you can hear their reporting beginning April 7 across NPR platforms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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