A Central African Refugee’s Story
“When the war started,” Ms. Yamende told Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) field staff in March, “we went into hiding. The Anti-Balaka were killing Muslims, anyone who was married to a Muslim, anyone who was related to a Muslim. Everyone – women, children and fathers – just ran away.”
“It was terrible,” she said. “Even pregnant women and their unborn children were attacked. I saw it happen.”
Ms. Yamende explained that at first the conflict was between the Seleka, a political group, and the government. The Seleka took over the government in March, 2013, and the Anti-Balaka (meaning anti-machete or anti-sword) formed in opposition to the coup d’etat.
“The Seleka people were not a Muslim group,” she said, “but Christians branded it as a Muslim group and formed the Anti-Balaka to take revenge on the Seleka by killing all Muslims.”
“The Anti-Balaka were killing kids and throwing them into the wells,” she said. “I wish I could go back, but who would protect me?”
She told cabout her younger brother who went to the market and never returned.
“He was killed there,” she said. “When I heard that, I just took what I had and ran away.”
Ms. Yamende and her husband have five children, but when she fled the country with her children, her husband ran in a different direction and she has not seen him since.
The first place she ran was to the big Mosque in Bangui. Muslims hiding there were protected there by the Burundian Army while they waited for Chadian security forces to evacuate them.
However, once they were evacuated, the Anti-Balaka militia were hiding in the trees, showering the refugee convoys with bullets. Ms. Yamende’s sister was shot on the thigh; her niece was shot on the upper part of her chest. Many others, including entire families, did not survive the attack.
“My sister and niece went with the UNICEF people,” she said. “But the Anti-Balaka people hijacked their vehicle and stole their money.”
Ms. Yamende, her children and the other refugees from the convoy camped out by the side of the road until they were rescued by another Chadian security vehicle that brought them to the camp.
When ZF field staff met and gave a food package to Ms. Yamende, she and her children had spent four days in the refugee camp in Sarh, Chad. In that time they had not eaten, except when local villagers had shared some of their food.
“I was a civil servant in Bangui,” She said. “Now I have nothing. No clothes, my kids are not in school. If I get a chance, I will set up a business, something to help the camp, and that way I will be able to send my kids to school.”
She appealed to Muslims around the world to remember them, pray for them, and send them food, especially during Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. She thanked ZF donors for their generosity, for thinking about her and the other Central African refugees, and urged ZF to continue its charity.