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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Young refugees hope for better times

Young refugees find themselves at the cross hairs of numerous challenges and require supportive structures to help them survive in their adopted countries

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Claudine Singirankabo, a 27-year- old Burundian refugee, calls Kenya her home and has no immediate plans to relocate to her country of birth to avoid reconnecting with some tragic memories.
Claudine was born a refugee in Rwanda in 1984 and has since roamed with her parents and siblings to several countries in the East Africa region in search of a safe haven.
The petite singer and coordinator of Nairobi based Burundi African Dancers, which draws membership from Rwandese, Burundian and Congolese refugees settled in Kenya; candidly tell of the tragedies and triumphs that defines her life’s journey.
“My mother and father met at a refugee camp in Rwanda where I was born in 1984. Six years later, we went back to Burundi only for war to break out after one and a half years.
“We finally found refuge in Kenya where my siblings and I have lived with mum since 1993,” Claudine told Xinhua during the World Refugee Day celebrations held in Nairobi on Monday.
She is the last born in a family of seven that is now headed by her mother since the father disappeared without trace when they were toddlers.
The embrace of Kenyan communities has kept the embers of hope burning in the souls of Claudine and her fellow young refugees from the Great Lakes region.
She feels part of the Kenyan social fabric having schooled in Nairobi at both elementary and tertiary levels of education.
“Immediately we settled in Kenya, I went to a French speaking school near Serena hotel and later on, a group of Burundian refugees opened Hope International School where English was taught to cater for children and their minders,” says Claudine.
She expresses satisfaction on quality of education obtained in those schools.
“We were able to choose a career path and encouraged to chase our dreams to whatever levels,” Claudine muses.
The dancing troupes that she coordinates is composed of 15 members and carry out a range of activities ranging from dancing, outside catering as well as peer to peer education.

Claudine reiterates that young refugees find themselves at the cross hairs of numerous challenges and require supportive structures to help them survive in their adopted countries.
She points at culture shock, harassment by the authorities and hostility from host communities as some of the challenges that most refugees encounter.
Claudine is optimistic that the Kenyan government will recognize and reward the efforts of refugees to foster communal harmony and contribute to national development.
Greater access to social amenities that include education and health for refugees will unlock their potential to benefit the host country.
Halima, a 24-year-old Somali refuge who has lived in Kenya since 1992 after civil war broke out in the horn of Africa Nation, is emphatic that empowered refugees are an asset to their adopted countries.
Halima currently stays in Nairobi with friends but her parents are back in Somalia .
“I went through primary and secondary education in the camps but have now graduated from a private university,” says Halima
She regrets that “Refugees in camps have suffered due to lack of education and quality healthcare. University places are very limited and employment opportunities are quite elusive to refugees. “
Halima urged the Kenyan authorities to initiate better equipped schools and health facilities in refugee camps to boost their livelihood.
She adds that “Lack of education and citizenship are the greatest problems facing refugees in Kenya .”
Having obtained a degree in social sciences in a Kenyan private university, Halima hopes to utilize her skills and empower fellow refugees in all facets of life.
For Sebatonya Lutandala, 30- year old Congolese refugee, life in his new abode has not been smooth sailing but fortitude, hope and courage have combined to reverse the tragic course.
Lutandala, who has stayed in Kenya for the last three years, fled the government clampdown on his Banyamulenge tribe in Bukavu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
Young Congolese refugees residing in Kenya are a close knit community that looks at the welfare of every member.
Lutandala says that greatest concern among his peers is to find a steady source of income.
He reveals that “We mostly do odd jobs such as washing clothes for a fee and a range of menial work in the Industrial area.”
A significant number of Congolese refugees eke out a living through performing arts.
 As a member of a singing quartet, Lutadala joins his peers to do live bands in various entertainment spots in Nairobi.

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