Incredible Journeys of Hope: The Story of Stranded Migrants in Kigoma

Tanzania - Seated on a boulder, under a tree, near the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma - a lake port city in Tanzania - Samaya Yusuf looks around her with suspicion as she narrates her story to the IOM, the UN Migration Agency team. She has a gentle smile. Every now and then, she interlocks her fingers and pulls them apart as she tells her story. Two children are seated next to her. One hers and the other her niece. With the innocence of a child, they are oblivious of their fate. Life has been unbearably hard for them the past few days.

Near the end of Ramadan this year, Sumaya left her home in Mozambique, with her son and niece, to visit her husband, a migrant mine worker. He worked in one of the many goldmines dotting the landscape in the Fizi territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu province.

She was not alone. Other families, women and children had arrived in Fizi too. While their husbands had come to DRC to seek opportunities lacking back home, the wives were now there so their young children could see their fathers in many cases for the first time in years.

“We needed to see him. The children haven’t seen him since he left Mozambique to look for a job,” she said.

While in DRC, she looked forward to experiencing some safety. After all, she was near a loving husband and a doting father. Her dream was however short-lived. Sumaya tells of how after barely two weeks with her husband, she heard gunshots one night in the small settlement close to the mine, where the families of the miner workers stayed. Fearing for their lives, she ran with the two children and lost sight of her husband, she still doesn’t know where he is. Soon after, the Congolese authorities found her together with the other women and children. They were put in a cargo ship bound for Tanzania.

One of cargo ship passengers was Sara Mapendo, a 26-year-old mother of two from Uganda, who had watched as gunmen killed her husband that night. He was a businessman. She too was returned to Tanzania and even though her husband is originally from Tanzania, she doesn’t know any of her in-laws as he had left his homeland many years ago.

Whilst the mines is DRC’s South Kivu are a source of employment for many migrants from neighbouring countries, the mineral rich Fizi territory is frequently a battle ground between rebel groups and the Congolese army.

Like other migrants that have been returned to Tanzania, Sara and Sumaya had lost their travel documents.

For the migrant families, their horrific experience eventually came to an end when IOM offices in Tanzania, DRC, Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique together with the authorities worked together to support their return to their respective countries. The smiles on their faces was palpable.  “I never knew this could happen,” Sara said.

“In my work, it is easy to get lost in numbers and statistics,” said Son Ha Dinh, Head of IOM’s sub office in Kigoma. “Talking to the families and being part of their happy outcome reminded me of the humanity in what I do.”

Migration in East and Horn of Africa, driven by a variety of factors, has increased over the years. IOM, with its presence in many remote locations, is frequently called upon often to assist stranded migrants.