Uganda: Fleeing persecution, seeking freedom
01 January 1900

Many refugee families in the cities have to share bare and crowded houses. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
The living conditions were not good, as we had to share a small room with the host family of four.

Kampala, 1November 2010 – I fled Rwanda in late 2009 because I was afraid of the ruling government, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). I used to live in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, with my wife and four children. Life was difficult for us because I faced many problems with the government.

Late one night, I heard a loud bang at the door. When I opened, three strong men grabbed me and pushed me into a vehicle. While we sped off I heard my wife scream for help. 

I struggled in vain to free myself. Instead the men threatened me with death if I did not keep silent. They drove me to a place that I later realised was a detention facility for the military intelligence. 

For several weeks I was detained, interrogated and tortured for associating myself with an opposition political party. Finally, I was released and warned not to get involved with any opposition politics. They wanted me to join the ruling RPF party, but I refused.

Fleeing Rwanda

However, believing in my political freedom and freedom of association, I returned to opposition politics, a fact which was not tolerated by the RPF government. I received information that government agents were searching for me and fearing for my life, I went into hiding and eventually fled Rwanda.  

I crossed the border to Uganda and travelled up to the capital, Kampala, where I sought asylum. A week later, my wife and children joined me. A Rwandan refugee accommodated us for a few days while we figured out our next move. 

The living conditions were not good, as we had to share a small room with the host family of four. Much as I needed my family around, I had no means of looking after them.  

By the time I was directed to JRS. I had lost all hope. “What is the use of a man who can’t take care of his family?” I remember telling JRS staff in Kampala. 

Starting over

The three month JRS support of food and accommodation was a big starting point for me. While JRS sustained me I looked for other means of survival because the aid was only for a short period of time. 

Since I was trained and had worked as a pharmacist back home, I strongly believed that I could get a job in Kampala as I waited for my refugee status to be determined. I also speak four languages - Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, French and English. 

With the help of InterAid, a partner organisation of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Kampala, the respective government ministry verified my academic documents. This gave me the opportunity to go ahead and start looking for a job. Luck was on my side and four months after I arrived in Kampala, I was employed as a salesman in a pharmaceutical company.

The minimum income I earn enables me to sustain my family. I can now rent a house in Kampala and feed them. I am an ambitious man, full of energy and far from the devastated impression I made when I first met JRS. I hope to take my children to school next year and enjoy a life free of persecution in Uganda.