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Angola

In Angola, a refugee centre offers new hope for a boy who lost his family

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2017/Gonzalez
Marie-Claire and Mashata stand in front of the home where they are living with her husband and children in the Mussungue reception centre for refugees in Dundo, northern Angola. Mashata witnessed both of his parents being killed by the militia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before fleeing to Angola.
 

By Marcos González

DUNDO, Angola, 20 June 2017 – "My dad was a police officer. He was working that day and returned to the city to pick up mom and me on a motorcycle. It was there that the militia arrived, and I do not know what kind of magic they did, but the motorcycle could no longer work... and that's where my parents were beheaded. I just ran away."

These are Mashata’s memories of the greatest tragedy that he has suffered in his only 10 years of life. The same tragedy that forced him to flee alone from Kamako, his hometown in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to reach the border with neighbouring Angola.

“They wanted me to be part of the militia, he says. “That's why I went out and came to this refugee centre.”

The trip to get to the centre was not easy. Mashata walked for two days, crossing rivers in canoes with no food – only standing water. Although there were many people around, he was completely alone. He had no friend or guardian to protect him.

At the end of the journey, Mashata arrived at the Mussungue refugee reception centre in Dundo municipality, northern Angola. He remembers his first day clearly: “I arrived with nothing. I never found myself among so many people and so hungry.”

But within the masses of people, a familiar face changed everything. “The ‘pastor Mom’ saw me and remembered me. She told me that I was like her son.”

Marie-Claire, an evangelical pastor, was his neighbour in DRC. "When I found him here in Angola and I knew what had happened to his parents, I did not hesitate to welcome him to my family,” says Marie-Claire, who saw her house and city destroyed by the militia.

A nurse by profession, she proudly displays old photographs of her work in DRC hospitals, in an attempt to show the normality of her previous life. "I never thought I’d live a situation like this," she says. "No one thinks it." 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2017/Gonzalez
Marie-Claire sits with some of her children and other refugee children in front of her home at the Mussungue reception centre for refugees in Dundo, northern Angola. In her hometown in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Marie-Claire was a nurse and an evangelical pastor. Before fleeing, she saw her home and her city destroyed by the militia.

Reuniting unaccompanied children

More than 30,000 people – including 13,000 children – are already living in two temporary reception centres, 18 km from the border between the two countries. Since early April, 300–500 people arrive here every day, fleeing the violence that prevails in the region of Kasai, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since the beginning of the emergency, UNICEF has worked together with provincial authorities and other partners to provide assistance to children and families who arrive at these centres after days of travelling on foot. Many children witnessed violent attacks, or sustained severe wounds caused by bullets or crude weapons. Others report having been used as soldiers.

Registration is a critical step to ensuring the safety of children like Mashata who arrive without their families. Registering children can protect them from trafficking, abuse and exploitation, and also improves their chances of being reunited with their families. UNICEF has led registration training for social welfare workers, which has already helped reunite 60 unaccompanied boys and girls with their families.

“Reuniting these children with their families is a priority,” says UNICEF Angola Representative, Abubacar Sultan. “UNICEF and partners have identified temporary placement for the unaccompanied children in a friendly and protective environment while efforts are made to trace their biological families.”

UNICEF is currently developing other life-saving interventions in these refugee centres to cover fundamental needs in the areas of water and sanitation, health, nutrition and protection. This includes constructing latrines and showers, providing safe water, conducting child malnutrition screenings and disseminating hygiene promotion messages and activities to avoid disease outbreaks.

UNICEF also provided humanitarian materials such as water treatment and purification supplies, educational and child recreation kits, medicines for treating malaria and diarrhoeal diseases, tents and blankets. 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Angola/2017/Gonzalez
Mashata stands with other children at the Mussungue reception centre for refugees in Dundo, northern Angola. In the coming months, more than 50,000 people are expected to flow into this area of Angola from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The life in the centres

The two refugee centres have already reached capacity, but still life continues on. Women cook outdoors in clouds of black smoke. Children play with homemade toys. Groups of volunteers work on building infrastructure like latrines to improve their quality of life. Meanwhile, dozens of new refugees arrive continuously from the border, many of them hoping to reunite with family members who travelled weeks ago.

Despite the semblance of normality in his new home, Mashata is not happy here. “After losing my parents who took care of me... I feel abandoned,” he says with deep sadness.

One of the things that he misses most is the school. "I really miss it. I want to study, to grow, because in my country I started school late,” he says.

But Mashata also doesn’t want to return to his hometown. The only family he has left is a maternal uncle who also escaped. “I do not know where he fled,” he says. “I have no one else.”

In the coming months, a new and larger refugee centre will be established in Lovua municipality, located farther from the border. Education services will commence in the second phase of the humanitarian response, once refugees are settled at the new Lovua camp. UNICEF will help establish and support early childhood development programmes and capacity-building for caregivers, as well as formal schooling for children like Mashata. UNHCR, UNICEF and partners are seeking US$65 million to help the growing number of Congolese refugees in Angola, which is expected to exceed 50,000 people.

Read next:

Living as a refugee

Children Uprooted

Humanitarian Appeal for Children: Angola

Humanitarian Appeal for Children: Democratic Republic of the Congo


 

 

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