|Welcome to Tongogara Refugee Camp|
|Sunday, 08 July 2012 19:01|
A SPRAWLING rural setting comprising of about 10 tents, numerous grass-thatched dwellings and also quite a number of unplastered brick and mortar houses - some of them roofed with asbestos. Dusty streets and equally dirty walkways where hordes of kids play soccer and adults engage in different activities while blocks of stronger, better white buildings that house administrative offices for the police, social welfare and immigration officials are located at the centre.
Welcome to Tongogara Refugee Camp!
The camp, which is located deep in the thickets of Chipinge South near Chibuwe Business Centre, is also home to young Felicia Angelique
Back in 2000, the then four-year old, Felicia Angelique, suddenly woke up from her deep slumber to the sight and sound of the horrific, bloodcurdling invasion of their village in Kayanza province in the strife-torn Burundi.
Felicia, who barely recalls the gruesome cold blood murder of her relatives, neighbours and friends as bloodthirsty enemy forces indiscriminately slaughtered innocent villagers using machetes and all sorts of weaponry, only got to know about her forgettable past after being told by elderly relatives.
Unfortunately for a young, innocent Felicia, she is now thankful just to get somewhere to lay her head, let alone at Tongogara Refugee Camp, where acute shortage of accommodation has left hundreds sleeping in makeshift tents.
Today, Felicia counts herself among the few lucky ones to have survived that onslaught and is living peacefully at Tongogara Refugee Camp.
"It is unfortunate that I was so young when we moved from our country of origin, thus I can hardly recall what exactly happened. Of course, I can remember the bits and pieces of scenes of violence that rocked our community, but I can not narrate anything chronologically.
"I was only informed of some of the nasty things that happened, but that was only when we were already here. I came here together with my parents with whom I am staying," said Felicia.
The 14-year-old girl, who now harbours the dream of becoming a nurse, almost had her dreams shattered when she was rendered homeless and forcibly driven from her country of origin.
However, she spoke about her ambitions in life and how she would have loved to get quality education.
"I am happy that at least I am going to school and I am doing well. However, I would have also loved to attend better schools where there are better facilities than what we have here.
"My dream is to become a nurse one day when I grow up and I am really looking forward to that. It is unfortunate that we are not allowed to get formal jobs here in Zimbabwe maybe because of our refugee status, but I would have loved to spend my life here and work here.
"Zimbabwe is a peaceful country with nice people. Yes, I love my country of origin, but the never ending conflicts will always give you the feeling that you would rather spend your entire life elsewhere other than Burundi," she said.
It is quite sad that politicians, in their infamous and dirty careers, make grievous mistakes and commit heinous acts most of which they themselves will never pay for.
This is undoubtedly the thought that keeps lingering in one's mind after visiting and chatting with some of the inmates, especially juveniles at Tongogara Refugee Camp.
Located some 50km west of Chipinge town, Tongogara has become a safe haven for 6 193 people, a platform for them to break from their troubled past.
Of the total population, 4 733 or 77 percent are refugees and 1 438 or 23 percent are asylum seekers. Males, who number 3 476, constitute the majority of inmates while females are 2 717. Many other refugees are running businesses at the camp. Some rear hundreds of goats and cattle, while others run commuter omnibus businesses and tuckshops.
Owing to the ever ballooning numbers of refugees that are referred to the camp by immigration officials, Tongogara has been hit by acute shortage of accommodation.
Be that as it may, refugees from troubled spots across the continent continue flooding Zimbabwe in search of peace
By nationality, Congolese are by far the biggest segment of the population with 4 539 having fled political instability in their expansive, rich but notoriously unstable country.
Of these, 3 327 are refugees while 1 212 are asylum seekers. Rwandese at 815 people, are second in population size, followed by 641 Burundians.
Congolese also make up the bulk of urbanite refugees at 748 and 29 urbanite asylum seekers.
These are people who have refugee or asylum seeker status but proved that they have enough money, skills or educational qualifications to run businesses or secure formal jobs in urban centres.
Other refugees and asylum seekers come from Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda, Angola, Congo Brazzaville and Somalia, among other countries.
In the camp, no-one trusts the next person.
These are people who ran for their dear lives from their countries; some after being brutalised by close relatives or their national armed forces, others seeing their children, parents or siblings killed.
So their paranoia or vigilance is justified.
Although mutual distrust pervades the encampment, they appear to agree on two points - a dislike of the routine lives they lead there and fear of returning to their countries.