Skip to main content

The world needs to know what is going on - portrait of a Rwandan seeking refuge

War in Gaza:: find out how we're responding
Learn more

"I decided I should leave town and go to a refugee camp I had heard about. Because I'm a Tutsi, and not a Hutu like the majority in the camp, people did not trust me when I arrived. They thought I was a spy, an infiltrator, sent by the government."

Roland* (25) has had to take care of his younger brother since he was 13-years-old, when the other ten members of his family were killed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. When he was not studying or working to support his brother and himself, he liked to play football on his town's team. His life changed a few months ago when he was arrested and put in prison. After two months of interrogations and beatings, he managed to escape to Burundi, where he is now.

"I joined a party that opposes the way things are organised now in Rwanda. It is not a recognized party and most of its members are Tutsi genocide survivors, although some of them are Hutus. Starting in mid-October, I began hearing rumours that people in the party were being arrested, killed or had disappeared."

Interrogations and beatings

"One day, men in plain clothes came to my office and arrested me and five other colleagues. I think they were members of a special intelligence unit. They took us to a prison where 200 people where being held in a room measuring only 20 by 40 metres. Our hands were kept tied at all times and we were beaten every day. They would interrogate me over and over again, asking me the location of the movement's base, and urging me to reveal the names of other members, especially those in the police force and military."

Escape from prison

"One day, a man came to warn me and a friend of mine. He had heard that they were planning to kill everybody in the prison, to just walk in and open fire on us. He helped us to escape and gave us money to get to the border."

Many spies

"We went to Burundi to get help. My friend was very feeble and could hardly walk: he had undergone some severe beatings in prison. He stayed in the room we had rented, while I went out to talk to some organisations to tell them what had happened. One day, when I came back, my friend was not there anymore. Neighbours told me that my friend had been arrested. They told me to look out because there were many spies around."

No trust

"I decided I should leave town and go to a refugee camp I had heard about. Because I'm a Tutsi, and not a Hutu like the majority in the camp, people did not trust me when I arrived. They thought I was a spy, an infiltrator, sent by the government. After some talking and some help from some individuals in the camp, people calmed down. But I can't trust anyone; I feel I can only rely on myself. They're getting used to me, but it's difficult for them to face me, they know I'm a genocide survivor."

No sleep

"I had nothing with me when I arrived, just the clothes on my back and the wallet I had in my pocket when I left my room that day more than three months ago to go to work. I'm alone most of the time. I share a shelter with four people I don't know. I don't sleep. I keep thinking of my younger brother. He doesn't know if I'm still alive and where I am. And I can't send a message to him. I'm afraid that if someone discovers that I'm still alive, they will go after him."

Speaking is dangerous

Usually Roland carries himself firmly upright. He's an attractive young man, who would not look out of place in any western big city. But now he is sitting with his shoulders slumped, his elbows on his knees, his hands locked. He looks down at the ground most of the time he is speaking.

Slowly, he looks up: "Speaking to you is dangerous for me, it could reveal my identity and I'm very afraid that people will do that. But the world needs to know what is going on in 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 name of the man portrayed in this article has 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.