Story and photos by Jean Damascene Hakuzimana
Meet Jean Clément from Mayukwayukwa Refugee Camp
Jean Clément fled the Mai-Mai armed rebel group in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 and is now living in Mayukwayukwa Refugee Camp, in Kaoma District, Zambia, which is where Amjambo Africa reached him by internet. He was eager to talk.
“Life is tough. We sometimes go to sleep without eating. Our kids rarely go to school. The health system is very bad, and we don’t have medication. We’re in a sorry state.” He said that the nutrition provided to kids is poor, health conditions are deplorable, and it is very hard for people with preexisting conditions to find medication. “We don’t have adequate primary health care in the camp, and when we try to seek it outside of the camp, we find that outsiders don’t care about us,” he said.
Mayukwayukwa is built on 161,670 hectares and houses more than 15,000 refugees from DR Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Angola, and Burundi. “The UNHCR gives help, but it is too little to satisfy human needs, and we are in urgent need of finding a third country like the U.S. that can help us to feel safer and to restart normal life. We have elders in terrible condition, and vulnerable populations like orphans and widows. I wish we could be resettled.”
Meet a family from Rwanda
Amjambo also talked with two refugees, a mother and her son, who were resettled in New Hampshire from Rwanda at the end of August. They expressed happiness at arriving in the U.S., as well as considerable confusion in the face of all they need to do to integrate into life here. They preferred to remain anonymous, an indication of how vulnerable many people feel when they first arrive in the U.S. – especially if they still have family abroad.
“All I know is that I am in a safe place, and I have hope to build some life here,” the son said. The family left a daughter behind in a refugee camp in Rwanda. Like them, she went through an extensive screening process, and completed every step of the resettlement process. But unlike her mother and brother, she has yet to be given a date to travel to the U.S.
“We left her behind with despair, and we cannot wait for her to be given a chance. We hope she makes it soon,” the mom said. The son completed high school in the refugee camp, and speaks basic English. He said that he is eager to jump into the job market and earn some income, in order to help his sister, who he said was left behind in deplorable conditions at the refugee camp.
Resettlement program being rebuilt
Hannah DeAngelis, director of refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities Maine, said, “The resettlement program was up and down during the Trump administration, and then through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been able to resettle very few people [in Maine], and hopefully this program will get back to normalcy soon.” Resettlement involves screenings and medical examinations while refugees are in camps overseas, and most of the infrastructure and personnel for administering the resettlement program were dismantled under the administration of former President Donald Trump and must be rebuilt under President Joe Biden. Biden has promised that his administration will increase the number of refugees resettled in the U.S.
The United States Refugee Act of 1980 established a federal program to resettle refugees of special humanitarian concern in the U.S. At the end of 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 82 million people worldwide forcibly displaced from their homes. Of these, 20.7 million fall under the UNHCR’s mandate and are eligible for resettlement in a third country, such as the U.S. But over the past five years the U.S. resettlement program has been relatively inactive. The Trump administration’s policies slowed resettlement to the U.S. to a trickle, and then the pandemic slowed things further. Meanwhile, the refugee crisis continues to grow, individuals continue to seek safe harbor, and try to rebuild their lives