Democratic Republic of the Congo
Lye M. Yoka

Lye M. Yoka
Photo: Goethe-Institut Kinshasa

What does the term refugee mean to you?

Here, we say, "The seasons do not chase birds away; birds chase the seasons away". Unfortunately, a refugee does not tame the inclement seasons but the seasons rather chase him away. The most unfortunate refugees are refugees in their own country. They have been nicknamed "displaced persons". Here, we say, "Is a bird afraid of its own nest still a bird? Is this nest still a nest?"

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Here, we say, "Is there any color, nationality, race for fear? Fear is the most universal, most shared and most democratic thing". However, as we know, democracy is a language that has been invented for the weakest people.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Fear is fear; it does not have a thousand faces: famine, war, dictatorship, tsunami, all those are fear; they all have the same face, the same twist of faith. Here, we say, "Even a fish living in the water is always thirsty"

When does one cease to be a refugee?

Here, we say: "A refugee is not a status; a refugee is a state of mind." Once you have been a refugee, you always bear it like a second nature. For a long time, some Congolese, particularly in the new generation, thought that refugee was an "ethnic group". Some still think that way ... We used to ask: "Where does this child come from?" Answer:" This child is from the family of refugees".

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Here, we say, "Bozoba Esala ngando: Akimi Mbula akweyi na Ebale" "Poor caiman fleeing from getting wet in the pouring rain, and finding refuge in the river".

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

There are no conditions to be free. There are no conditions to be a free man or a free woman among free men and women.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

65 million of refugees in the world constitute a whole new UN nation. 'United' Nations?

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

I am saying it again: when you are a refugee, you are a refugee. This is both a tattoo on the forehead and on the stomach (just as the Jews had been identified through a registered trademark in Europe during the Second World War), and a state of mind.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

Are the animals penned in a zoo penned in a "fair way"? A refugee child was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The child answered "I want to live!"

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

Here, we say "the tree on the bank cries out of nostalgia watching the boat sailing into the river; the canoe in the river cries out of nostalgia watching the tree on the land. The Wise told them both that they are all of the same essence". Every man is a man; every woman is woman. Any man refugee is a man; any woman refugee is a woman. They all have the same rights regardless of the pressures of public opinion.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

Here, we say: "The father who married my widowed or divorced mother is now my father". An adopted refugee considers himself an adopted child with rights but also with duties.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Here, we say: "The father who married my widowed or divorced mother is from now on my father". The father, the foster nation, has rights but also duties.

Do you know any refugees personally?

In a country constantly at war since 1960 such as DR Congo, refugees are part of everyday life. I have met a number of them, both "longstanding" refugees and "new" ones. I have said: even when they are no longer in "camps" (what a nasty word!), they are blacklisted as forever belonging to new ethnic group forever stigmatized.

Do you actively support any refugees?

I am a teacher and in my spare time, I am a journalist and a writer. I have written a lot, either fictional or realistic pleadings, testimony about experienced or registered cases. This is my humble way to denounce, to be indignant.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

Here, we say "Ata na suka is Ngomba, bamonaka avenir te": "Even at the highest peak of the mountain, it is impossible to read the future."

a) over the next two years?

The situation will not change much within two years, due to the germs of violence that are embedded in the society, particularly during the current time of election in our country, DR Congo.

b) over the next two decades?

However, in the next twenty years, we will have done penance for our current crimes, the civil society now emerging will have been a counterweight to political and democratic reestablishing, young entrepreneurs will have disciplined the general trend to informal and to improvisation, "the refugees ethnicity" will have integrated the community: all ingredients to boost the culture of peace and harmony.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

This is my crazy dream: I am convinced that the current upheavals in the world, whatever their magnitude and dangerousness (mass migrations, terrorism, rampant xenophobia, and isolationism), constitute a period of great transition to a new civilization without borders. Here, we say that we must go through initiation fire in order to hope for redemption.

If yes: what does it take?

Here, we say: "One finger cannot wash alone the whole face". If we unite our individual indignations in a formalized manner and denounce inhuman injustices as prophylactic and detergent waves (like what is already emerging in Africa and in the world among the "outraged" youngsters and the civil society), but without any politician or humanitarian-mercenary trend ('no war, no money'), we will be and set of tomorrow a hurricane of qualitative transformation.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

I am from the west of DR Congo and my wife is from the East, where conflicts persist. We are subjects to ordeals on a regular basis. We know what 'mourning' means. Precisely, at my wife's, they say, "God has created Geography, the Devil has created history"!

Do you think you will ever be a one?

Honestly I do not wish to become a refugee some day. Here, we say, "Life is worth nothing, but nothing beats life".

How much “home” do you need?*

My dream for my children, my grandchildren and myself is that the whole earth becomes my homeland, our homeland. Even now, my children are "nomads" of modern times, since one is an American and the other is a Canadian. Here are the true citizens of the world!

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.