Portrait of a Rwandan seeking refuge

"I don't know why they were after my husband. The only thing I can think of is that they were after him because he was educated and a Hutu. Because he could hire people to work his land for him. I'm confused and desperate."

Like many others who were in their teens when Rwanda's genocide happened in 1994, putting life, as they knew it, on pause, Maryse* started secondary school only last year - at the age of 24. That same year she got married and gave birth to a baby girl, Eloise*.

Her life turned upside down when uniformed men picked up her husband. He's said to be dead — killed while trying to escape policy custody. Fearing for her life, she fled from her home country, heading south, into neighbouring Burundi.

"People were accusing my husband of collaborating with rebel groups. We didn't take it seriously. Then, one night, there was a knock on the door. My husband went to see who it was. It was uniformed men who told my husband that he should go with them. The next day I went to the police station. They told me that he wasn't there. The day after, policemen came by. I thought they were taking me to see my husband, but instead they took me to the provincial office."


"They said to me: 'Do you agree that your husband is supporting rebel groups?' I said 'No.' They said: 'Do you know that your husband is collecting money for them?' I told them: 'I don't know what you are talking about.' I told them: 'He's a civil servant.' Then they told me that they had shot him while he was trying to escape: he was dead. They gave me his clothes, but there was no trace of blood or bullet holes. When I asked them to let me see his body, they beat me."

Being watched

All this time, Maryse has been sitting completely still. But now her eyes wander off. Eloise was trying to stand up while holding onto a bench, and had fallen onto the floor, landing on her bottom. As a matter of routine, she picks up the girl and places her on her lap. She wipes her daughter's nose with the tip of the orange and yellow cloth she's wearing wrapped around herself in the traditional way.

She continues. "I tried to take it to court. But then uniformed men started to come by my house - it felt like every day. They told me: 'Tell us what you know.' They told me: 'You're being watched.' But there was nothing for me to tell them."

I took my baby and ran

"I found out that my husband's bank account had been blocked, our motor bike was confiscated. After six weeks, I couldn't take it anymore when they came to look for me again. I took my nine-month-old baby and ran. I went to my mother; she suggested that I go to Burundi. So I started walking. I didn't take anything with me, afraid that the guards at the border would get suspicious and wouldn't let me pass."

Only a handful of clothes

"When I got to the other side of the river, it was dark, so I sought shelter. A Burundian family took me in for the night. They gave me money to take a bus to the Musasa camp. I don't have any money, and only a handful of clothes that my younger brother managed to get to me before I left for the camp."

Confused and desperate

"I don't know why they were after my husband. The only thing I can think of is that they were after him because he was educated and a Hutu. Because he could hire people to work his land for him. I'm confused and desperate. I don't sleep at night. I feel like a stone, I don't know what to do. All I know is, I can't go back to Rwanda."

MSF in the Musasa camp

In Musasa camp, where approximately 15,000 Rwandans are staying, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) runs a health clinic where its staff treats both Rwandans seeking refuge and Burundians from the area. The MSF team of two international staff and 65 Burundian and Rwandan staff members are seeing 2,000 patients per week. The team treats patients for respiratory tract infections, malaria and tuberculosis as well as other ailments.

The clinic has eight consultation rooms, a pharmacy, a delivery room, a room where wound dressings are changed, a prenatal consultation unit, areas where children are weighed and malaria screening is done and a small inpatient department.

* For safety reasons, the names of the woman and daughter portrayed in this article have been changed.

Rwanda: Haunted by past violence

It has now been twelve years since the 6 April 1994 rocket attack on the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents sparked a cycle of violence known to the world as the Rwandan genocide. Approximately 800,000 Rwandans were massacred in only three months time. The majority of the victims were members of the country's Tutsi population.