A FEW weeks ago, a friend of mine helped his wife pack a small bag of clothes, then waved his wife and two small children off as they departed on an overseas trip.
But they weren’t going on holiday, and they weren’t going away for a leisurely break.
Instead, they were fleeing. He was worried for their safety, so he arranged for them to quietly and hastily leave their home in Burundi for the relative safety of Rwanda.
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You see, Burundi, where Felix lives, is the poorest nation in the world. Everyday life is hard enough, but right now, it’s even more dire than usual.
Because a month ago, President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would be a candidate in June’s election – despite the fact that he’s already held two terms in office, the maximum, and despite the fact that his bid to run again is considered to be unconstitutional.
Since his announcement, violent protests have swept the nation. The UN refugee agency reports that more than 105,000 people have fled Burundi into neighbouring countries since the conflict began; amongst those thousands are Felix’s wife and their two children, seven-year-old Sammy and four-year-old Kheina.
It was a difficult decision to send his family to the refugee camps, Felix told me over email, as “the conditions are very hard… more than 8 people have already died by diseases”.
“My wife called me soon after she reached Kigali, the Rwanda capita, from a borrowed mobile phone, telling me that they were to move to another city a bit far from Kigali,” he wrote to me.
“I am glad that, whatever conditions they will be in, at least they will sleep without fearing being killed.”
That last line – my God, it slayed me. Last month they were a normal family living in Burundi, going to work while their kids attended school, browsing Facebook during breaks in the day (access to social media has since been blocked) and chatting with friends via email.
Just one month later, they are all living in chronic fear and uncertainty. Yet in Australia, I’ve barely seen it rate a mention in the news.
Which is that, at night, “we men have to stay awake and moving around for our security,” Felix told me this week.
“You can’t imagine how tiresome it is to stay awake all night long and go to work the following day, for few of those who are still obliged to report to work, including myself. We are negotiating so that we can take turns so to avoid possible illness due to fatigue and stress,” he added.
If you’re moved to take action and help those people who are suffering, donations to the UNHCR will go a long way towards supporting those in need.
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