Fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mubotulo Louise came to Canada approximately a year and a half ago accompanied by seven children and one grandchild. Her journey to Canada follows a path of tension, fear and hope.

Louise recalls when armed men came to her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 2000, demanding that her husband, a Christian pastor, join the armed forces. Without hesitation, the family decided to escape to a refugee camp in Uganda. In the midst of planning their escape, the armed men returned. Her husband escaped successfully.

She and her six children fled their home without any food, clothing or money, but the two were separated. After a three week journey, Louise and her children went to a refugee camp in Uganda. There she joined a local church that helped with the paperwork they needed to enter Canada as refugees. Four years later, she was reunited with her husband in the refugee camp.

Not long after their reunion, he was taken by the armed forces and she was left waiting to give birth to their seventh child.The DR Congo is a vast country with huge economic resources. It has been the centre of what has been called ‘Africa’s World War.’ Left in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, the war claimed an estimated three million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition.

Despite the official end of the country’s five-year war in 2003, Eastern DR Congo is still plagued by army and militia violence, where even children are forced to join the army. It has been labelled the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades.

UN officials have called DR Congo “The Rape Capital of the World”. Although laws exist to protect women, they are not enforced. In the year 2009 alone, over 8000 rapes were recorded. Today, rape remains a dominant feature of the ongoing conflict in eastern DR Congo.

“My greatest need is to see my family together.”

“I’ve met many women who were ganged-raped in front of their husbands, sons or daughters,” she said, “but that is Congo, women have no rights”.

Louise arrived in Canada sponsored by the Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) in 2009, accompanied by her seven children. After five years of not knowing where her husband was, she received a phone call that he was alive. Now, she waits for the day that they can be re-united. “My greatest need is to see my family together”, she said.

As with many refugee women, Louise feels that she lacks support caring for her seven children. A grandmother of one child, she longs for the strength and company of her husband. His papers however, are being held in the Nairobi (Kenya) Office.

Canada’s visa office in Nairobi covers 18 countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo, and is by far the slowest visa office for applications for family reunification from refugees accepted in Canada. Refugees often wait years for Canadian immigration officials to process their applications to come to Canada. While they wait, they struggle to survive in desperate and dangerous situations and are often asked to prove their identity through DNA testing.

Half the cases of refugee dependants processed by Nairobi take more than 27 months (compared to 16 months globally). This means that children in some parts of Africa often wait more than two years to be reunited with their parents, even though their parents have already been accepted as refugees in Canada.

For Louise, this means she can only hold on to hope.

– By Maria Antelo | Photo by Michelle Drew

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