Rwandan’s genocide survivors tormented by horrors 25 years on

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French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd L) meets French representatives of the Ibuka association for the memory of Rwanda's genocide, two days ahead of the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris on April 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Visitors are seen outside the Genocide Memorial in Gisozi within Kigali, Rwanda April 3, 2019. (REUTERS)
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Flowers are laid on top of a glass case containing the skulls of some of those who were slaughtered as they sought refuge in the church, kept as a memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide, inside the church in Ntarama, Rwanda Friday, April 5, 2019. (AP)
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In this Dec. 19, 1996, file photo, tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees, who have been forced by the Tanzanian authorities to return to their country despite fears they will be killed upon their return, stream back towards the Rwandan border on a road in Tanzania. (AP)
Updated 07 April 2019
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Rwandan’s genocide survivors tormented by horrors 25 years on

  • Seventy percent of the Tutsi population was wiped out, and over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population
  • Hutus extremists released AIDS patients from hospitals in order to form “rape squads” to infect Tutsi women

KAMONYI, Rwanda: Edith, a 51-year-old housewife, finds it difficult to listen to the radio or watch television in April, the month marking Rwanda’s annual reminder of its 1994 genocide.
Songs and programs broadcast in the east African nation remember the 800,000 people brutally slaughtered over a 100 day period — but also share the pain of those who survived.
“My four brothers and sister were killed during the genocide. This commemoration is important and we must remember them,” Edith — not her real name — told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her village in Rwanda’s southern Kamonyi district.
“But when I hear the songs or poems on radio, I get flashbacks of hiding in the forest and of how the men from the militia came with their machetes and found me. I remember how they took turns to rape me — and how they impregnated me.”
As Rwanda commemorates 25 years since the genocide ended, thousands of survivors still live in torment, haunted by memories of when extremist Hutus went on the rampage, slaughtering over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
“What they experienced was so totally barbaric that even now we find many are reporting symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” said Yvonne Kayiteshonga, Mental Health Division Manager at the Ministry of Health.
“This manifests itself in different ways such as lack of sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, depression or anti-social behavior where they are withdrawn and do not want to be with others. Some survivors also resort to drugs or alcoholism.”
Kayiteshonga said preliminary results of a 2018 national survey found 35 percent of survivors aged between 25 and 65 years reported symptoms linked to mental health problems.

NEIGHBOUR TURNED ON NEIGHBOUR
The genocide began on the night of April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi — both Hutus — was shot down.
The attack sparked a rampage by Hutu government soldiers and allied extremist militia with the aim of exterminating the Tutsi minority whom they blamed for killing Habyarimana.
In villages and towns across the densely populated country, neighbor turned on neighbor as people were hacked to death, burned alive, clubbed and shot.
As many as 10,000 people were killed daily. Seventy percent of the Tutsi population was wiped out, and over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population.
Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war with up to 250,000 women and girls raped, resulting in thousands of births.
Hutus extremists also released AIDS patients from hospitals in order to form “rape squads” to infect Tutsi women, and thousands of survivors and their children born from rape are now infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
The fighting ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement that swept in from Uganda, marched on Kigali and seized control of the country.
“After the genocide, attention was focused on basic needs such as providing survivors with food, water and housing as they had lost everything — no one paid attention to the trauma,” said Sam Munderere from the Survivors Fund (SURF) which provides counselling to women and their children born from rape.
“And of course, the longer mental health problems are ignored, the more traumatized survivors have become over the years.”
MORE COUNSELLING REQUIRED
Munderere said he met women who had been so violently raped that they felt physically sick when another man approached them.
While other women, who had given birth after being raped, could not accept their children, and mistreated or left them.
In the lush, hilly villages of Kamonyi district, just outside of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Edith recounted how she withdrew into herself and would stay alone in her room for days after the genocide was over and she discovered she was pregnant.
“I was scared to tell anyone and wanted to have an abortion, or even kill myself, but eventually I confided in a friend and she told me that God had saved me for a reason,” she said.
“Even then, after my daughter was born, it was hard to accept until the people from SURF came and brought me together with other women like me. We had counselling sessions where we just all spoke about experiences and cried and cried.”
Mental health experts said even children born out of rape were in desperate need of counselling as many were unable to accept how they were conceived and felt ashamed of their past.
Edith’s daughter Diane, 24, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she struggled when asked about her father.
“When I was growing up I used to wonder about my father, but my mother would not tell me. Now I understand why,” said Diane, not her real name, adding that she used to hate her mother for hiding the truth.
“It was only when I went to a youth camp organized by SURF last year where there were other young people like me that I realized I was not alone. It is important to find people you can trust to talk to or you will become depressed.”
Government officials admitted mental health support was lacking in Rwanda and needed to strengthen for survivors.
They said last year’s survey would help authorities to formulate a policy on improving mental health treatment for survivors, but also much needed to be done to raise awareness as mental health issues still carried social stigma.
“We have trained staff in many health centers across the country to deal with trauma, but we are still lacking counselling services in many places,” said Kayiteshonga.
“We also need to be more aggressive in raising awareness about the issue. There is still a lack of knowledge about PTSD and there is a lot of stigma in the community.”


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 25 June 2019
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”