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Is becoming a refugee a choice?

Many people who have not lived in a conflict zone have trouble understanding the refugee situation – how and why someone becomes a refugee in the first place. Some people even think it is a choice. Let me tell you, no one wants to become a refugee. It’s never a choice, but circumstances that creates a refugee.

Sedrick visiting Nakivale and experiencing the daily washing situation.

Before someone becomes a refugee they have been living a normal life just like any other person. Their lifestyle might not have been luxurious or fancy but at least they were happy with what they had and where they were.

I never dreamt to leave my country. All my dreams as a child were based in my country – the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a child, my brothers and I went to normal school (we call it primary and secondary school). I had childhood friends just like any other kids (most of whom I have lost today). Growing up I loved everything around me and what I had.

My father was a businessman and a teacher. He eventually got involved in public office (local politics) and almost lost everything because of political instability in the country. My mother worked at a juice-making factory. At that time, it was a unique job. Juice was exported to Rwanda and Burundi. Life was great and enjoyable. During the war, the factory was looted and everything was stolen. So my mother lost her job.

In primary school we learned world history and geography. At a young age you pretty much knew all continents, countries, their presidents, and even their independence days. There was no need to envy any of those countries because everything was fine.

But the moment war breaks out in your country, you don’t see much of a future anymore. Everything that you thought about life becomes bitter. As a kid, you learn a new vocabulary of war and conflict (pillages, massacres, rape, gun rebels, killings, refugees, UN, etc.). Every morning the news reports more killings and rapes. The reports become more consistent and larger in scope.

Nakivale settlement water filling station.

I saw it and I lived it. Not once or twice, but several times. We feared it was only a matter of time before we were the victims in this war, so we decided to leave our home. First to surrounding cities that we thought were safer, but eventually we left the country because there was no safe place we could find.

At that moment you don’t have a choice. Others’ stories are worse. Survival is all they can think about. I guess you’ve heard about Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria and others over time. Do you think those people wanted what happened to their country? No.

Who in the world would want to see her mom or her dad killed?! Who in this world would want to lose all they have, leave their homes, and become a refugee? Who do you think would want to see her mother or her sister raped in front of him? Whose parents would want to see their kids taken away from them or become child soldiers? Who do you think would want to sacrifice their good jobs, education, and country just to go somewhere unknown?

A young refugee in Nakivale building his own house out of mud and sticks.

These are exactly the stories of refugees. Of course it’s easier to read about it and watch it on the news, but it’s not easy to live it. These people who some refuse to let enter their country are victims. They have no choice but to survive. If their countries were peaceful, these people wouldn’t have left simply to perish in the Mediterranean sea.

What refugees need is a second chance. A second chance to live with dignity. Free from killing and rape as a way of life. They need peace. They need stability. To wake up tomorrow with no fear of being killed or persecuted.

When you see a refugee or think of a refugee ask yourself a question:

What if it was me, my family or my country how would I want people to treat me?

Next time you see a refugee, think of yourself.

As I always say: No one becomes a refugee by choice but by circumstances.

#refugeecamps #refugeestories #refugee

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