Congolese refugee resettled in Sheffield

If I managed to go through life at the refugee camp, I can manage whatever the future will bring”

Many people fondly remember being 18: thinking about the future, making choices about studies, getting to know interesting people, and, for the first time, enjoying the flavour of a pretty much independent life. Muginareza lived in a refugee camp when she was 18. A refugee camp was her home for 11 years until, through a resettlement programme, she was able to move to Sheffield in the UK.

Muginareza is one of over 600 resettled refugees who have found safety in Sheffield, since the citystarted to receive resettled refugees in 2004. With its long-standing commitment to welcome people who fled countries such as Liberia, Congo, Burma, Bhutan, Iraq and Somalia, but who could not rebuild their lives in the first country where they sought asylum, Sheffield is now the lead city partner in an initiative led by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) to build a European resettlement network of municipalities and regions.

Muginareza was only 11 when she fled Congo and arrived in Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda. Starting a new life, in a different language, in a city, after having lived for years in a refugee camp is not without challenges, but those who are now settled are embracing the programme by helping newcomers to feel at home, and both local authorities and civil society remain committed to this life-saving initiative as a way to contribute to a humanitarian and moral duty towards the most vulnerable. However, this is not merely a philanthropic project, as its supporters are also aware of the benefits to the general population that come from living in a diverse society where people from different ethnic backgrounds feel welcome.

Through the UK’s resettlement programme, the Gateway Protection Programme, the UK is committed to receiving 750 resettled refugees every year. The programme is funded by the UK Home Office and the European Refugee Fund (ERF) in order to support refugees in the 12 months after their arrival, including with accommodation, access to education and healthcare, and integration support. After 12 months, resettled refugees can access services through mainstream welfare provision for all residents. Since the start of the year, the EU Joint Resettlement Programme has been in place and, as a general rule, Member States providing resettlement places for people from a country in the Regional Protection Programmes, persons indicated on the list of specific common priorities for 2013 or members of particularly vulnerable groups, will receive € 4,000 for each person resettled for the purpose of supporting their integration.

The EU takes in only around 5,000 of the 180,000 refugees that are in need of resettlement in the world each year. By comparison, the US resettles around 40,000.

How was life for you at the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda?

It was not Congo, there was not war but life in a refugee camp is difficult.

We don´t have a future there. You can´t plan your future yourself. You cannot work, you have to wait for people to bring food for you, you cannot do anything for yourself. That was difficult for me. I was in the camp for 11 years. Life there was hard but I was confident that if I had managed to go through that I could manage whatever the future would bring.

I remember our first day in the camp. I came by bus with my brother. I was 11 and didn´t know about borders. I was asking “Where is dad? Where is sister?” People in the camp were just saying “They’ll be fine” trying to encourage me but we didn´t know about them.

In the UK I started to use facebook. I sent a friendship request to somebody in Congo who had a name that was familiar to me. This person told me he had seen my father. I told him that my father was dead, that I haven´t seen him or heard from him in 11 years. He said: “Don´t say that. He is my neighbour!” I asked him to get his phone number and when I rang, the person on the other side of the line even called me with the nickname my family used to call me at home. He was my dad. He passed me to my sister. I could remember her voice because I used to hear her voice in my dreams. 

They are now fine. But in Congo, you know, for a while there is peace, for a while there is fighting. But I’m just happy to know they are alive.



I dream to get all the family together again”



 Do you have plans to bring your family together?

I can’t forget them. I have dreams. I dream to get all the family together again. I wish every day to be with them. As a refugee, I’m not allowed to go back to my country. Maybe if I get a British passport I would be able to go back to Congo. Bringing them here is maybe not impossible but it is a long process.

My brother, with whom I was in the refugee camp, passed away but I’m here with my sister in law and her kids. The children are doing great. For the way they speak English, you can´t tell the difference with children who have been born here. My eldest niece phoned the other day all excited: “Oh, in 108 people in the class, I’m the second”. I was so glad. In the camp, there was no future. Now, if they stay focused, if they go to school and work hard to get what they want, they can be doctors, they can be whatever they want.



My nephews are doing great. If they work hard they can be doctors, they can be whatever they want”



What did you feel when you were told you would be leaving the camp?

Oh my God, I was so happy. My brother came to my school to tell me that the UK would get us out of there. I jumped and jumped and jumped. The emotion made me cry. I told the news to my classmates. A friend of mine told me “I pray for us as well to get that opportunity to go”.

Did you receive some information about the UK before coming?

We received one week course of English language before coming. They also showed us a film about life in the UK.


This article is dedicated to the memory of Muginareza’s father, who passed away before the publication of this interview.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 6 September 2013.

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