It was 1996. Malunda and Rebecca lived happily in Mweso, a small, beautiful village with many green trees in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They were planning to start a family there, but a conflict between rebels and the government, and Malunda’s father was killed, along with many other innocent people in Mweso.
Malunda and Rebecca survived, fortunately, and boarded a bus the next morning that took them to Rond Point, a crowdy bus terminal covered in plastic papers in Sake. There, they boarded a different bus that took them through lush green landscapes that reminded them of Mweso during the rainy season. After six hours, they arrived in Goma, the capital of the province on the northern shores of lake Kivu, exhausted. They had never travelled such a long distance before.
The people of Goma suspected they were rebels trying to flee, and pointed their fingers at them. Malunda and Rebecca felt unsafe, and found their way to the lake as soon as they could, hoping to get on a boat there. The lake was quite small, either end is visible on a clear day, and surrounded by beautiful woods that appear to extend into the distance forever. Birds whistled and chirped cheerfully as they drew spirals and circles in the sky above the lake, before landing back into the trees to trees.
“We’ll probably still have to travel far before we’re safe,” Malunda said. Rebecca nodded silently, looking at the birds, the waves gently lapping, and the boat that was finally appearing in the distance.
When they had made it to the other shore of the lake, they took another four-hour bus ride, and then arrived in Uvira. There, they encountered Mujiinga, a kind lady who sold bananas to the locals. She gave them enough food for the day at least. Mujiinga also showed them a bush to hide behind and that they could follow to cross the border with Burundi unnoticed. They were thankful, and after a long walk, they entered Burundi. They spent the night camped out on porches at the Gatumba community compound.
Fortunately, they were found by Niyibigira, one of the compounds’ shop owners, who felt sorry for them after she heard what they’d been through, and invited them inside. Niyibigira’s husband, a pastor of the Jezebel church, was delighted to accept them into his family. They stayed there for about a month.
Malunda inquired with the host family if there was any way they could assist them in getting to safety, given that Gatumba is near to the Congo. The pastor said he’d help them on board a large truck headed for Tanzania. The truck driver, one of the pastor’s buddies, was tall and dark in complexion. They got inside, and the truck driver told him he could take them to a site near the border named Karonga that aids newly arrived refugees. He suggested that they go there. Without thinking twice, Malunda and Rebecca decided to go.
After a month in the Karonga Transit unit, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees decided to transfer them to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Two years later, their son Patrick was born.
Malunda and Rebecca couldn’t afford to send their son to school. To make money, Malunda worked in gardens owned by the locals living outside the refugee camp. Life was miserable in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. When Patrick turned 17, a family friend offered him a job as a Shopkeeper in the capital city Lilongwe. What else could he do but accept?
The shop was located on a crowded, dusty street, near to a market, and sold groceries, snack foods, soft drinks, and ice creams. Life in the capital wasn’t easy either. Patrick wasn’t earning enough to cover his bills, let alone to send a little amount to his parents In Dzaleka Camp. However, he kept working. After all, he was uneducated and no one would offer him a better job.
One day, after two years of living in the capital, two immigration officers entered the shop. They approached Patrick immediately, and asked for his passport. When he told them he didn’t have one, they arrested him.
“What did I do wrong?” Patrick asked.
“It’s illegal for to live in the capital city, Malawi law states that all refugees are supposed to stay in the camp.”
After the arrest, Patrick lost hope in a better future. Even the menial work he had was taken away from him. He was sent to prison, to await extradition. In the meantime, his parents tried desperately to release Patrick from prison, but the camp administrators couldn’t help.
It’s two weeks later now, and parents still haven’t heard from him. They’re trying to move mountains, searching for their son, but to no avail. They have approached the Malawi Redcross Society but they did not receive any updates. Patrick was their only child, and as the days go by, Malunda and Rebecca lose more and more hope that they will see Patrick in this world again.
8 February, 2023