June 20th was world refugee day and with all the terror that is going on around the world, we have so many more refugees today than ever before. The stories shared on my timeline really touched me and reminded me of our own struggle.
A month or two ago, I read a twitter discussion between Rwandans and Burundians and my Rwandan brother was asking Burundians to look for solutions themselves and stop looking up to other people to get them out of their situations. He referenced Rwanda as an example, since we had to look for our own solutions when the whole world watched by while the genocide happened. He went further to tell them that we will receive refugees but that they shouldn’t get comfortable in our country.
While I completely agree with that the answer will only com from Burundians themselves, I find it very inhumane to tell someone who has fled his country and left everything behind for fear of losing his life and/or family that they shouldn’t get comfortable. Especially if you have been in the same situation before. I could not believe what I was reading. Most Rwandans lived in exile and one of the countries that welcomed us with open arms was Burundi. I didn’t want to comment because I refused to comment out of anger and give him relevance. I also didn’t trust my words then but since I have had a chance to cool down and think, here are my thoughts:
Since 1959 Rwandan Tutsis had been living in exile, in 1979 the Tutsi refugee intelligentsia in Uganda set up the region’s first political refugee organization, the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) to discuss a possible return to Rwanda which was later renamed RPF in 1987. On 1 October 1990, they invaded Rwanda and liberated it in 1994, stopping the genocide against the Tutsis.
It took 20 years for a party to be formed, 11 years from then to start the journey of returning back and 4 years from then to return and stop the genocide. While my intention is not to school you on the history of Rwanda, I want to make it clear to people who think like my brother on twitter that it is not that easy to start the journey of liberation.
As someone who once lived as a refugee and one who has close relatives who are currently living as refugees I cannot be indifferent to their pain and struggle. We see it all over media and it seems inhumane when it is the West that is acting arrogant and insensitive but we forget how we treat the people we are living with. Refugees do not have rights like everyone else, they do not have access to public health insurance, they do not get the same education benefits, they do not have a sense of belonging, and they cannot easily make long-term plans because they do not know how long they are going to stay in exile. These people have been uprooted by war and forced to leave everything and everyone they have known and loved, to live in a land they know nothing about. They have to start from scratch. And Rwanda, developing as fast as it is, is very expensive even to its citizens, I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the Burundians who are not working, especially if we compare to the cost of living in Burundi a few years ago. They do not have the right to apply to any job because most companies require locals. Imagine all that turmoil and someone tells you to not be comfortable? How can you? What is comfortable? Building a house? Studying? Starting a business? Getting married? In Congo, some of us had to have a third name that didn’t sound too Rwandan so that we could be allowed in schools, so even studying was not a right we deserved.
See, no matter where they are, a refugee will always feel like they have lost a part of themselves. Maybe, the Rwandan commentator on twitter meant to give them some tough love and encourage them to fight and stop hoping for help to come from outside, but I think that was like putting back the knife in a wounded soul.
What refugees need is love and to feel welcomed, we need to give them a sense of belonging and that is not too hard to give to Burundians because we have a lot more in common than any East African people. So, to my brother and my fellow Rwandans who feel inconvenienced by refugees, I have this to say: remember where we came from, how long it took us to get here and let us be as hospitable as those who received us if not more. Let us not be like that servant whose debt was forgiven but when his turn to show mercy came, he refused to forgive his debtor.
In this hurting world, let us spread love, kindness, gentleness and be empathetic to our neighbours because it is a worthwhile sacrifice. Let us open our homes and hearts to all these people, let us make life easier for them and even if we have nothing to gain, let us do so simply because it is the humane thing to do.