Refugee Family Reconnects Across Belgium And Burundi After Four Years


Giulia Balestra

In 2013, Sifa was was separated from her siblings André, Rashidi, and Mugoli in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Four years after, Sifa found her siblings again thanks to the REFUNITE platform. 

Separated In The Democratic Republic Of Congo, Refugee Family Reconnects Across Belgium And Burundi After Four Years

The story below was recollected by Sifa*, a 22 year Congolese refugee living in Belgium. All details and events described are accurate to the best of her recollection.

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Sifa was born in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the year 2013, she was 18 years old and living with her younger siblings André*, Rashidi*, and Mugoli*. Sifa had been taking care of her siblings since their father and mother passed away in 2009 and 2011.

In 2013 the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (DFLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group, approached Uvira, the city where Sifa, André, Rashidi, and Mugoli lived. Sifa left her house and rushed to the local school to pick up her siblings and take them to a safer place. By the time she arrived to the school the place was deserted. For days, Sifa looked for her siblings in Uvira. Fearing for her own future, she fled to neighboring Burundi where she applied for refugee status. After two years, she was resettled to Belgium. Still hoping to find her siblings she registered them as missing persons with a local nonprofit organization and waited to hear back. Through one of her friends living in Belgium, she heard about REFUNITE and decided to create an account on the family tracing platform and increase her chances to finding her siblings.

Zawadi*, a Congolese refugee in Burundi, had heard about the REFUNITE family tracing service in her host community. Assisted by a friend, she registered using her mobile phone and started searching for her missing brothers, whom she had lost contact with for years. In 2015, Zawadi met André, Rashidi, and Mugoli: their story reminded her of her own and she felt the urge to help them find Sifa.  

One day Sifa received a message through the REFUNITE platform from a woman living in Burundi who claimed to know where André, Rashidi, and Mugoli were.

Zawadi and Sifa started communicating through the REFUNITE platform. Sifa asked Zawadi to send her a photo so that she could confirm if these were her siblings. Because sharing photos via REFUNITE was not possible, they exchanged phone numbers and started sending each other messages through WhatsApp and talking over the phone.

Four years after their separation, when Zawadi finally shared photos of the kids on WhatsApp, Sifa had the answer she had long waited for. She knew that her siblings were alive and living safely in Burundi where Zawadi was taking care of them. Sifa is hoping to physically reunite with André, Rashidi, and Mugoli soon.

 

*For security reasons, all names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewees.

Interviews were conducted by Rody Musimwa of REFUNITE in April and May 2017. Interviews were conducted in French and partly in Congolese Swahili on the phone. For more information, please contact Giulia Balestra gb@refunite.org

 

10th of May, 2017.