Congo’s Killing Fields

We are on our way to a refugee camp in Kalemie, in the east of Congo.

More than a million people are on the run here.

The area is 2000 kilometers away from the capital Kinshasa and hard to reach.

Recently fighting has yet again erupted here, when neighboring Rwanda invaded.

And these are the people it’s about. The region they came from turned into one big killing field almost two years ago.

4.13: I have a pain in my heart. While we were underway, we saw blood everywhere. A bullet went straight through my leg.

After eight years of civil war in this part of Congo, the railroad is just about the only thing that hasn’t been destroyed.

An old train is made ready to transport fifteen thousand refugees back to the villages they were once thrown out of.

The population here is being plagued on all sides: by Rwandan soldiers, mai-mai gangs and Government troops. Most soldiers haven’t been paid for years. Robbery of civilians by these factions is frequent.

Yet two Congolese priests brave the chaos to help the refugees return. They’re being helped by care worker Henk de Haan.

But while they work to repatriate people, yet others are fleeing.

5.37: When the Rwandans invade a village, they kill everyone. Then they leave and then the mai-mai come. They kill the survivors. They've plundered everything.

At the refugee camp at Kalemie, illness is rife and death is a frequent occurrence. But there is new life too: this baby was born four days ago.

The refugees must have all suffered terrible mental trauma. There’s no such thing as therapy here, merely a gladness to be alive. Every family has lost someone.

Bernard is fifteen. He’s here with his father.

Feza is ten. She’s an orphan.

Germaine is a widow. Not only did she lose her husband, but also her two children when her village was attacked.

06:45: At five in the morning they attacked. They shot everything that moved. They picked up the survivors. They took all survivors: My uncle, my sisters... they took them in groups into the forest. We were at our home. When they entered. They shot my father at the door. My mother was pregnant. She walked up to my dad and got killed as well.

07:24: How are your mom and sisters?

07:27: They're all dead.

07:31: Who brought you back here?

- My dad.

07:37: The shooting started at two in the night. My husband walked to the door and was shot. My eldest son as well. I was shot in the leg.
I had my three year old son on my back. Only later I discovered he was hit as well, in the back. He was dead.

08:04 What did they do to you?

- They burned my arm.

08:20 How did that happen?

- They burned me with a metal pipe they held in the flames.

08:28 And pressed it on your arm.

- Yes, on my whole arm.

08:34 Are you going back home tomorrow?

- Yes.

08:42 Do you like that?

- Very much.

The refugees want to go back home because peace appears to have returned: there is no more risk living in their village than here, where they are dependant on aid. But first many obstacles have to be crossed.

There has been an alliance with a group of soldiers to escort the train. But they’ve got a bad name. Those who threatened you yesterday, have to protect you today.

09:17: We should start now. No more waiting. Walk calmly. Walk calmly and keep the card ready.

If Henk de Haan and the priests succeed with the transport, it’s a new start for the refugees.

To check the flow of people the care workers divide the refugees in groups. The first fifteen hundred can board here. The second group waits for the train at the camp. Every one has been issued a card, giving the right to a package of foods and basic domestic supplies.

It’s worth: about 25 euro. A fortune to these people.

06.00 We have to leave. We already have seven hours delay.

10:14: We'll go.

10:21 Come.

10:23 Stop.

10:26 Stop. Calm, calm.

10:47: We're going back home.

10:51 I'm so happy, because I'm still alive.

10:59 Bye, friends.

11:02 We're going home.

11:12 I'm so happy, because I'm still alive.

The train arrives at the camp. Here another 2500 people have to board.

12:12 Jean-Pierre, what do we do now? One of us at each door?

12:58: Stand back. Come on, stand back.

13:06: Make a line, calmly. Wait up.

13:13: One at a time.

13:16: Wait a second. Keep your card ready.

13:23 The train won't be leaving yet.

13:27 Your card please.

13:29 Get in.

13:35 Come here with the card.

13:41 Form one line.

13:53: Give me the stick.

14:07 Sister in law, look. I'm over here.

Fifteen hundred meter away Mukehina sits with her mother. She’s not boarding the train. Mukehina’s mother is seriously ill.

14:53 Where's your father?

- He's dead.

14:56 How come?

14:58 The war. He got killed by the mai-mai. With bow and arrows. We couldn't do anything, if we'd cry, they'd kill us as well, they said.

15:20 And you fled here?

- Yes, and we couldn't take anything. They took everything from us, all our clothes. This is all I have. We have no food.

Returning home, the refugees don’t know what state they’ll find their homes in.

Germaine sits in the train, with her children that have survived.

And Feza, the ten year old orphan. She says little. There’s a women who has taken care of her.

17:06 What are you doing?

- The screws are broken.

17:10 I've seen that.

On the way the rails have to be repaired often, before the machinist dares to go over it.

The journey goes without incidents.

We’re now in the heart of the area where the massacre happened one and a half years ago.

In the end the train stops, and doesn’t go on.

Most people, especially the orphans, don’t dare to go into the night.

Also Bernard appears to stay in the train. He’s alone; his father has fallen ill. To make the most of the precious rations card he let his son go alone.

The train stopped at an old station in a village, two kilometres from the river.

This is why the train couldn’t go on. Mines have been laid around the bridge.

From here the refugees will have to walk - fifty, a hundred, sometimes 200 kilometres to reach their village. At the old station food packages will be handed out, later today. After that the refugees will go home.

Bernard hangs around us.

Feza leaves the station. She’s going to check on her home, she says. She’s talking about her second home, which is apparently in this village.

18:26 Here my whole family got killed. Murdered just like that. They're safe here. If I get my stuff, I'll take them to safety.

20:06 You saw my father. He stayed there. Life is so hard. I can't help him enough. What I get now, I can't save for him. It's a pity he's still there. He's got nothing there. I have to take care of him. Now I'm a man and I'll have to take care of him.

21:34 Feza, are we almost there?

21:37 Yes, there it is. That way.

22:06 Here it is.

22:19 Your house was here?

- Yes.

22:21 What happened?

22:23 First we lived on the other side. We got attacked there. We built a new house here. Then we were attacked here as well. I fled. I just ran into the forest.
My whole family was murdered. And in the forest I met this woman. She came from my village, she's adopted me and we fled together. I feel terrible.

23:37 Aweze Tabu. There he comes.

23:44 Haweze Fukuzane. - What's keeping him?

23:48 Come on.

23:50 Call for Kasimba Bernard. Keep it with you for now. Here is your stuff. You'd better put it on top of each other. Come here with your tumb.

Also Germaine is checking what’s left of his house.

A happy surprise awaits her. Not only is the house still there, but she also meets her brother and mother.

25:15: Welcome, sister.

- Goodday.

25:18 Let me help you. It's been a while.

25:24 Welcome.

25:28 So long ago.

25:35 Hello, mother.

25:39 Welcome.

Bernard found a friend. The mother of the boy said he could live with them for now.

26:17 Welcome.

- Here I am.

26:22 Five, salt is six, seven...eight, and that's...

26:31 Eight... nine, nine, ten...eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen...

26:43 What's in your bag?

Eighteen pieces. Initial funding for the new future of these refugees.

26:53 What do you want to do later?

- I want to study.

26:57 And after your study?

- I want to be home and find work.

- What kind of work?

27:08 That doesn't matter.

27:10 As an example?

- Teacher. To teach.

© 2022 Journeyman Pictures
Journeyman Pictures Ltd. 4-6 High Street, Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 0RY, United Kingdom

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more info see our Cookies Policy