KYAKA II REFUGEE CAMP, 25 March 2010 (IRIN) – Innocent Rokundo, 42, is a Rwandan who has lived in a refugee camp in western Uganda for the past 15 years. He fled his country during the 1994 genocide with his wife. She returned to Rwanda in 1996, but he has had no contact with her since.
“I came to Uganda from Mtabila, a settlement in Tanzania, when the government there forced the return of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans in 1996. I came here alone and was so afraid of being sent back home as happened in Tanzania that I thought not to register was the only way to ensure my stay in Uganda. I thought that if I am not registered with the designated authorities, technically I do not exist for anyone here, and nobody can send me back where I do not want to go.
“All these years, I moved from one village to another among the 16 comprising the settlement in Kyaka II. Fellow Rwandans helped out, either giving me a place to stay or a meal in exchange for cultivating their land. But since July 2009, the situation for Rwandan refugees in Uganda has worsened and my friends could no longer help me as they used to.”
(In an effort to encourage their repatriation, Uganda has banned Rwandan refugees from cultivating and those who have been in Uganda longer than two years no longer receive food rations from the UN World Food Programme.)
“Food is not enough for them either and they cannot afford another mouth to feed. Now I make a living doing irregular jobs for people in the camp. Cultivating their lands guarantees me a meal and the ability to buy food – though nobody has to know that I am doing these jobs: it is forbidden to Rwandans. I am now afraid of what is going to happen to me. I had to come to the clinic last week to be treated for malaria. I was sick with malaria before and never sought medical assistance but this time the symptoms were worse. I thought it was because I hadn’t eaten much. I guess this wasn’t the reason.
“The doctor just told me I have HIV and somehow the authorities inside the camp found out that I am here. I don’t know what is going to happen to me. Will they let me stay? Or will they send me home? I am more afraid to be sent away from the camp than about my health. I know I may not live long but all I want is the chance to stay here till the end of my days.”