DR Congo: Putting Burundian refugees back in touch with their families

Story and Photos by the International Committee of the Red Cross

The crisis in Burundi has driven thousands of people to flee to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many have lost track of their loved ones in all the upheaval, and are desperate to find out what happened to them. In these difficult circumstances, children have found themselves without their parents' protection at a time when they need it most. Some 14,000 Burundian refugees now live in Lusenda camp in the province of South Kivu in eastern DRC. The ICRC and the National Red Cross Society are working in the camp to help people trace and contact their loved ones.

A Burundian refugee in Lusenda camp, where 14,000 people have sought refuge, writes a Red Cross message (brief, hand-written messages containing family news) to his family.

"On a normal day, a mother might be at home, a father in the field working and their children at school. Then violence erupts, and everybody starts running. This is how members of the same family lose each other." A refugee submits a family tracing request. The ICRC works with the National Red Cross Societies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania to help people find their loved ones.

"When people have the telephone number for their family, we give them the opportunity to call them. But very often, after months on the road, phones and numbers get lost. In this case, we take all the information that can help us start looking for missing family members." A Democratic Repbulic of the Congo Red Cross volunteer dials the number so that these refugees can contact the rest of their family.

A refugee calls his family to let them know how he is.

RCStock_VOLUNTEERINCAMP.jpg

A Red Cross volunteer delivers Red Cross Messages in the camp.

"People can have food and shelter, but not knowing what happened to their loved ones, this can make people esperate." Refugees read the replies from their families in response to the Red Cross Messages they sent.

Refugees receive their families' replies to the Red Cross Messages they sent. For some, this is the only way to keep in touch with their loved ones.