“Home is the absence of war.” Refugees talk of their longing for home

Published: 20 Jun 2012
By: Lucy Hovil

Today is International Refugee day. It’s a day when officials visit refugee camps and refugees are made to sing and dance and look happy. It’s a day when they are supposed to express their gratitude to those who give them assistance.

But refugees don’t want help or handouts. They want justice, they want fairness. They want the right to work, the right to look after their families, the right to have land to grow food, the right to move freely, the right to dignity. Most of all, they want to have a home.

Yet becoming a refugee is a manifestation of the ultimate injustice – being forced from one’s home, from the place where one belongs, into another country. It is the knowledge that they had to flee because their own state failed to protect them. And even in exile, under international protection as signified by their refugee status, these injustices continue.

Over the last years, refugees have given their time to talk to us and tell us what they think about exile, about justice, about their need to belong. Here are a few of their comments – dangerously de-contextualised, but put together in one space to give just a small indicator of their yearning for home.

“Citizenship is an end to being called a refugee.” (Burundian refugee, Ulyankulu settlement, Tanzania, June 2008.)

“Home can be one’s country; it can be where one is born; it is where you have relatives and friends. However, all in all, it is a place where one has land, where one is entitled to do anything without any restrictions. A place where you have rights and freedom to do what you want.” (Sudanese refugee, Adjumani settlement, Uganda, August 2010.)

“We have been refugees for so long. Now we just want to live together as a family again.” (Burundian man, returning home after over three decades in exile, Makamba Province, Burundi, July 2009.)

“I am a stranger until I get my land… I am still a refugee although I am in my own country.” (Burundian man, temporary hosting site, Makamba Province, Burundi, July 2009.)

In North Kivu we are like a woman who is pursued by several men and who does not know, in the end, in whom to place her confidence… The one who tells us that he is here to assure our security is tomorrow the one who is killing us, stealing from us, raping us.” (Congolese woman, Masisi, DRC, June 2009.)

I am a Congolese, but I am denied the rights of being a Congolese. Some people are saying there is peace in Congo, but can you have peace when you cannot reach your home?” (Congolese man, Rutshuru, DRC, June 2009.)

“The only rights I have as a Sudanese is being assisted by UNHCR as a refugee here.” (Sudanese refugee, Adjumani, Uganda, August 2010.)

“Home is a place where people live together with relatives in an extended family and speak one language, enjoy traditional food like dilo [cassava flour bread].” (Sudanese refugee, Adjumani , Uganda, August 2010)

“Being a citizen of one’s country means living in peace in your country. There is nothing as bad as being a citizen of a country and being haunted by the feeling that you are a refugee.” (Rwandan refugee, Nakivale, Uganda, November 2009.)

“Darfur is my home and one day I will go back.” (Darfurian refugee man, Kampala, Uganda, May 2011.)



Programmes: Statelessness, Citizenship and Right to a Nationality
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Burundi, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, North and Horn of Africa, Sudan, Rwanda
Type: IRRI Blog