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A view from Uganda: 12 photos of the Congolese refugee crisis

by Helen Manson | Mar 02, 2018

Right now, in this very moment, even as you read these words, there's an invisible crisis unfolding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Refugees are leaving in droves because of violence, heading to nearby Uganda where health clinics cater to their needs. 

In the past week, there have been nearly 1,000 reported cases of cholera in southwest Uganda, and the vast majority of patients are children under the age of 9. With young lives hanging in the balance, Medical Teams International is mobilizing health professionals to heal the sick and protect the vulnerable.

To shed light on this crisis, photographer Helen Manson traveled to southwest Uganda to document the experiences of Congolese refugees crossing the border. 

It's not easy for me to edit photos like these. I go to bed and see their eyes as I try to sleep. I remember all too well. The smell, the temperature, the harshness of the environment they live in and the context in which we met.

Last year (on average) 30 to 50 people crossed the border each day. Now those numbers are closer to 500 per day. Medical Teams International is also there, right now, providing emergency and ongoing medical care to these precious people--now refugees. Here are the 12 photos that meant the most to me from my recent trip there.


Uganda, Mikuze and family - story - DRC response, 2018 (4)
This mother and child woke up a couple weeks ago and realized their entire village had packed up and left. Gun fire sounded in the distance, so she grabbed a bag and her other children and walked to Uganda. As she crossed the border, we met and hopped into this United Nations truck together. I sat in the back of that truck with other refugees like her to a transit center where they began their new lives as refugees, escaping the violence and conflict of their home country. When the truck slowed down to pass over a speed bump, I took this shot.

Uganda, Registration of DRC refugees, 2018 (1)
Waiting in line to be registered as refugees by the United Nations' refugee agency, this young boy caught my eye.

Uganda, Mikuze and family - story - DRC response, 2018 (9)
On arrival at a border point/transit center, Medical Teams International provides health screening and immunizations for incoming refugees.

Uganda, inside an MTI clinic - DRC response SW, 2018 (28)
This little 18-month-old baby girl weighs 13 pounds. Her parents have both died and her grandmother is now her caregiver. Your contributions help provide nutritional support to help her grow.

Uganda, Registration of DRC refugees, 2018 (10) (1)
This is what it looks like to register as a refugee. This mother caught my eye, as did her beautiful children. They are exhausted. 

Uganda, DRC refugees at the transit center, 2018 (10)
Living conditions for 2,700 Congolese refugees arriving into the transit center on the border of Uganda.

Uganda, inside an MTI clinic - DRC response SW, 2018 (14)
Standing in the doorway of the Medical Teams clinic this beautiful little girl lost her daddy just days earlier. She and her two sisters and baby brother are now refugees living in Uganda.

Uganda, sanitation screening - DRC response, 2018 (16)
Health Screening is an important first step for refugees arriving into Uganda. Babies who need food will get it, mothers who need medicine will receive it, and children who are sick will be seen and cared for.

Uganda, inside an MTI clinic - DRC response SW, 2018 (13)
The pharmacy inside a transit center is this grey box filled daily with medicines to help the huge influx of refugees coming in.

Uganda, Registration of DRC refugees, 2018 (6)
I noticed these boys being registered and immediately went to inquire. "Unaccompanied children," the registrar said. We talked for a minute or two about the background details he was getting from them: Their ages are 6, 8 (twins) and 12. My heart sank. I took this photo then turned away and let the tears slip down my cheeks.

Uganda, DRC refugees at the transit center, 2018 (2)
A newly arrived family unpacking their things.

Uganda, DRC response - transit center food, 2018 (22)
Seeing hundreds of people wait in line for food is a hard thing to experience. I think it's the dignity element and the control element that bother me the most. 

Your support means everything to these refugees. Consider donating today to help families and orphaned children who are seeking refuge from violence. Every contribution makes a huge difference in the lives of suffering women and children.