Sophia Zawadi, 35 years old, from Fizi, D.R. Congo
Sophia welcomes me into a small hut made of sticks and torn plastic sheets. The floor is muddy and the hut is just big enough to sit up straight on a small wooden stool. We huddle up to sit inside with four of her children and another woman and her baby whom she is temporarily hosting. She explains that 14 people live here, and I struggle to see how 14 people could even fit in the hut at the same time.
“I am at the camp here since November 2017. I fled Misisi (in Fizi territory) in September because of the armed conflicts between the army and the rebel group Mai Mai Yakotumba.”
Sophia is one of the approximately 700 000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in South Kivu Province who have fled their homes because of#armedconflict. She walked almost 500km to finally find safety in a small camp for IDPs on the other side of the province.
”I travelled long distances to get here. First, I fled to Uvira [a town approximately 200km away], but there was no help there, so I went to Bukavu [another 130km from Uvira]. I couldn’t survive in Bukavu, I had no family and I had nothing to feed my 9 children. I heard about the camp here in Minova and I was told there was assistance for IDPs, so I came here. It took me two months to finally arrive in Minova [Minova is another 150km from Bukavu].”
"When I fled, I was pregnant. I gave birth to my baby in December. I am alone here, my husband fled and I don’t know where he is now.”
Sophia bends down to pick up her baby daughter who is crying on the floor.
”Living conditions here are very difficult. We don’t have food, clothes or shoes. Look at my children, look how thin they have become.” Sophia lifts up the dirty T-shirt of her four year old son to show me his swollen belly and thin chest.
I ask how she manages to feed all her children. “I work on the fields all day. I get paid 1500 Congolese Francs (less than 1$) each day to cultivate the fields of the local population. My eldest son is 19 years old, and he works as well to earn some money for the family, when he can find work. Sometimes he gets paid to carry heavy loads from one place to another, and sometimes he works on the fields with me. With the money we earn I am able to buy a few vegetables and some flour. It’s not enough for 9 children though. They are constantly hungry. When I finish cooking, they scrape the flour left on the spoon to eat it.”
Photo and Story by: Clara Veale / © UNHCR 2018
The UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) estimates that there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world today, but only 28.5 million are refugees and asylum-seekers. The rest do not cross a border to seek safety, but flee to other parts of their own country due to armed conflict and generalised violence. These Internally Displaced People (IDPs) often move to areas where it is difficult to deliver humanitarian assistance and as a result, are among the most vulnerable in the world. This month, Voices of Refugees would like to shed a light on the plight of IDPs with personal stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with the highest number of IDPs in Africa and where armed conflict and human rights violations, including killings and mass rape, have forced 4.5 million people to flee their homes.