Tanzania + 1 more

Till death do us part

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"Perose was a young beautiful girl in our village. I was a young ambitious man," says Bahekeye, remembering the old days. "I visited her home several times and noticed her. Now she is old, but had you seen her at 17, you would be very much captivated by her looks." © Ingrid Prestetun/NRC

"We have spent many years of our lives fleeing danger. It is very tiresome. All our children were born in refugee camps," says Bahekeye.

Bahekeye fled conflict in Burundi. At the age of 63, all he wishes for is to find a place where, together with his family, they can spend the rest of their days in peace.

"We were refugees before in Tanzania, living in the old Mutabira refugee camp in 1993," Bahekeye recounts. When they went back to their homeland in 1995, their land had been repossessed. "There was conflict linked to land ownership. But the main reason for the unrest was political instability surrounding the presidential situation."

A need for 36,000 shelters

A calm and soft-spoken man, Bahekeye now lives together with his wife Perose, 61, at Mtendeli refugee camp in Tanzania, where they have been since April 2016. Three years have passed since they fled Burundi.

Many years living together has built respect, trust and harmony in their companionship. Perose takes care of the household chores while Bahekeye ensures that aid agencies are informed about their needs. They are hardworking, but Bahekeye laments the lack freedom to venture outside the camp and find jobs.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has built the house they live in Mtendeli, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The shelters are made of mud bricks, wooden support beams and iron sheets for the doors and roof.

Shelter is one of the main concerns for people living in the camp. Around 36,000 new shelters are needed, but the humanitarian community only has funding for 16,000. NRC is constructing shelters and building primary schools.

Can’t go back

"We need peace and harmony around us. We cannot go back to Burundi, but we don’t have any land to farm in Tanzania." says Bahekeye.

Their eldest son Buchumi used to take care of them in Burundi. Unfortunately, he became a target of armed groups, locally known as "Imbonerakure" which means "the feared ones". They accused him of supporting the opposition political party. Buchumi had to run into hiding, and the old couple remained without help.

Years in hiding

Life in Burundi was very difficult. "My husband spent more than five years hiding from militias who were trailing him every day," says Perose. The armed groups suspected both Bahekeye and his son to be opposition party supporters since neither ever attended meetings organised by the ruling party.

One day, Buchumi returned and told his father that there was a chance they would survive if they fled to Tanzania. To avoid being seen by any armed groups, they woke up before dawn and walked for three hours. There were eleven of them on the road. Fear and uncertainty dominated the nighttime journey.

At some point the group split into two to attract less attention. The group headed by Buchumi did not make it across the border. A group of security men stopped them and ordered them to go back to Burundi. This was the last time Bahekeye and Perose saw their son.

The couple managed to reach Tanzania without him. And they know they’ll get through what’s to come.

“We have sacrificed many things to survive. Till death do us part, we have vowed to remain together,” says Bahekeye.