Sunday, January 31, 2010


So, we finally got into camp this week. We received a slight reprieve from the Tanzanian government, who granted us temporary camp permits. Our time is up this coming Thursday, but fingers crossed that our hail mary pass - sending our country director to Dar es Salaam to talk to the government - will be blessed with success and we will have work permit exemptions in hand by the time our temporary permits expire, or at least soon thereafter.

I was in camp two days this past week, one day to observe my country director interviewing a refugee family looking to be resettled and another to conduct my own refugee interview. My observation interview was conducted in an approximately 8 x 10 ft room with high ceilings, a single fluorescent light, one operational plug, one laptop, one notebook, a table, five chairs, a bench and an open window.  I was in the room with my country director, a translator, and a family of ten from the Congo. The family of ten included a mother in her early 40s, looking closer to 50 years old, her three children from a previous marriage - including her two daughters, one in her teens and the other in her early twenties, and a son of about 13 years old - as well as the five year old son of the older daughter. Also there were the mother's second husband - the first was killed in Congo - and their daughter and three sons, all under the age of five.

There were a total of thirteen of us in that tiny room. It was difficult enough to try to keep track of who was who when I was in the room with them, so try to bear with my explanation.  First, on the other side of the room from the door, with his back to the open window, the father was seated on a chair holding his only daughter, who looked to be about two years old. The translator was also seated in a chair in front of the window, to the left of the father. To the right side of the father and his daughter, was the grandson of the mother - possibly about five years old. He was seated in the corner, on the end of the bench that was along the wall. To his right on the bench was the mother of the family. She was holding her youngest child - a pudgy baby boy less than six months old, sleeping soundly and wrapped in the original baby bjorn - a piece of brightly colored cloth. Next on the bench was her teenage daughter, the reason the family was there. She was brutally gang raped by a group of men in the camp and has barely spoken since. To her right was the mother and father's oldest son, who looked to be about four years old. He was seated next to the mother's teenage son from her previous marriage. On the end of the bench next to him was another of the mother and father's sons, approximately three years old. Lastly, seated on a chair in front of the door facing the window, was the mother of the little boy in the corner - the oldest daughter of the mother of the family. I was seated in a chair next to her and to my right was my country director. He was conducting the interview, typing the information given to him on his laptop.

I observed the gathering of the biodata on the family, which included confirming the names of each of the individuals listed on the application, their ethnicity, age, religion, place of birth, etc...While my country director was conducting this part of the interview, I was listening to the questions asked and observing the family. When they entered, only the baby was sleeping. The mother was holding her sleeping child while watching her husband explain their family composition to the translator. 

Soon, the mother and father's oldest son - about four years old and sandwiched in between his half brother and sister - began to yawn, struggled to keep his eyes open, but soon drifted off to sleep. The parents' two year old daughter began to yawn as well and shortly followed her brother's lead. The grandson in the corner was busy picking his nose, but shortly was bored of that and dozed off. 

The teenage son was keeping an eye on his two half-brothers and the tattered documents the family had brought with them. The teenage daughter made an attempt to leave the room before the interview even started, but was convinced to return to her seat on the bench. She spent most of the time muttering inaudibly to herself as she sat mainly staring at the ceiling. During the interview, I had thought that her behavior was just the result of being a spoiled teenager, until I was told what had happened to her in the camp. The two year old daughter woke up a bit later in the interview, but continued to drift between sleep and wakefulness while her older and younger brothers continued to sleep -  one in his mother's arms - and the other sitting against the wall on the bench, supported by his half-siblings on either side of him.

All of this was happening as the father was explaining who was who, how they were related, names, etc...Unlike many of the refugees, the father had been educated, making the job of collecting this data much easier.  Many of the refugees don't even know what decade they or their family members were born, never mind the year, month, or date.  However, knowing this information and being consistent is vital to their credibility - and therefore their ability to be resettled.

The family took a break after about two hours.  At that point, I left them and began my interview in another room.

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