August 12 to 13, 2004, a Congolese Banyamulenge refugee camp was attacked in Burundi. This happened in Gatumba. An attack of unheard of violence more than 160 dead and a hundred others wounded.
The survivors speak of a fire to fire: weapons, rifles, grenades, cans of gas also to set fire to the shelters in which these refugees had wanted to hide.
Mado, my cousin my uncle’s daughter who was born in Uvira, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, her family fled to Gatumba when she was young because the war in the region created unsafe conditions. The camp was home to members of the Banyamulenge ethnic group, part of the Tutsi tribe.
Most nights, children at Gatumba would play outside past dark, But on the night of Aug. 13, my cousin’s parents instructed them to go to bed early. My cousin mado did, but she woke up during the night to the sound of singing and praying. Then, violence.
My cousin tried to wake her mom up but my uncle her father told her to stop. Her mom was already dead. Her one-week-old sister, Sarah Masoyinyana, was nursing when her mother was shot. The baby’s cries rang out, and my cousin mado said she worried they would call too much attention to her family.
Her father was shot in his leg and torso, she said. Her aunt swooped in to rescue her and the baby, but her father didn’t follow. She was forced to leave him and her other siblings behind as she ran through the forest toward a nearby house where refugees were seeking sanctuary. There, she huddled in a corner, scared and confused, waiting for morning to finally come.
“I heard men crying, women crying,” she said. “I heard one woman say that, ‘I left my child.’ us kids we were crying for our parents.”
In the early morning hours, a car came to take those who were injured to the hospital, she said. Only then did my cousin realize that her own forehead had been wounded, likely by a bullet fragment.
Once her wound was tended, she had a tearful reunion with her grandmother and returned to the camp. She closed her eyes to avoid seeing the scattered bodies, some of which had been set on fire. She looked forward to reuniting with her father but soon learned he was at the hospital. A man told her aunt to go to him quickly, she said, but my cousin was instructed to stay behind.
When her aunt came back, she was crying, so she that her dad was already dead, she said. Her aunt passed on his goodbye message. At that moment, my cousin felt like running away. Nonetheless, she stayed put, until a man came to take her to an orphanage.