A mother bends down to bury her own child, killed by the violence of war. A family mourns in pain after losing their home destroyed by the bombs. Dozens of people killed as a boat sinks off the coast. A father hopes to soon reunite with his daughter and wife, separated during a journey towards a better future.

Images like these quickly flow through the news, where faces, names, and words are often reduced to numbers: 27.1 million refugees, 89.3 million forcibly displaced worldwide.[1] Their perilous journey extends beyond borders, facing cultural barriers, bureaucracy, discrimination, and exploitation.

This is a challenge that is difficult to address. Thanks to the joint intervention of governmental and non-governmental organizations, support from communities, and the collective efforts of each individual, it is possible to restore hope and the right to a dignified life in the present and future.

A year ago, this is a message that we experienced fully at the FHA Conference in Seville in June 2022. The Vincentian legacy, embodied in the mission of St. Vincent and St. Louise in the 17th century in service of the poorest, remains a living flame in the work of many Vincentians around the world.

Pope Francis’ teaching to ‘welcome, protect, promote, and integrate[2] reminds us to approach the plight of people who are refugees with a ‘culture of encounter’, breaking down cultural and geographical barriers, with empathy and human brotherhood. The right to ‘non-refoulement’, which prohibits the expulsion, return, or deportation of refugees to a country where their life or freedom would be at risk, guaranteed by the 1951 Convention[3], remains a protection for refugees that we must uphold.

Refugee Day falls each year on 20th June and follows the theme of ‘Accompanying the journey of a refugee’. To mark the occasion, we want to listen to the stories of Claudine and Doris, from Burundi and Ghana respectively. They are experts by lived experience, and beneficiaries of the “13 Houses” Campaign. They speak to us of suffering, but also of hope. This is our chance to pause and contemplate: ‘What can I do to encounter the other? To welcome this suffering and make it sprout into new dreams and renewed hope?’.

Let us lend our ears, so that we may embark upon our mission with a renewed sense of purpose and calling.

[1] UNHCR, 2021

[2] Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 104th World Day of migrants and refugees 2018

[3] The Refugee Convention, 1951

From Burundi to Rwanda: Claudine’s journey

Interview conducted by Father Henri Matsinga on June 10, 2023 at the Mahama, Rwanda camp


My name is Nshemezwe Claudine.

I am a 21 year old girl.

I am the eldest of my 3 younger sisters.

I am studying in the 2nd year of secondary school.

I have been here at Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda since April 2015.

I am Burundian.

Claudine, what was the most difficult part of leaving Burundi?

At the beginning, it was very hard to imagine living outside my country, let alone in a refugee camp. I didn’t believe what our parents told us about going to Rwanda, our neighboring country.

How was your journey to Rwanda?

From home to the border with Rwanda, it’s about twenty kilometers. We walked those kilometers on foot: my dad, mom, and my 3 younger sisters. At the Rwanda border, we encountered buses from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Along with other refugees waiting by the buses, they took us to the camp located in the eastern part of Rwanda, near the border with Tanzania. To reach there, we crossed the entire country. We spent a whole day without eating.

What were your biggest challenges in the new country?

The challenges were numerous, but I will mention a few. Since our arrival at the camp, we used to only eat one decent meal per day. I immediately started falling ill, especially with stomach problems. My parents couldn’t provide us with food and clothing, so we depended on aid from UNHCR and, to some extent, the government.

In particular, I want to thank Father Henri Matsinga, who brought us money and asked my parents to start a small business. Continuing today, we benefit from this small business (a food kiosk). Father told us it was aid from a Campaign called “13 Houses” that wanted to share the hardship with the refugees in Mahama, including us, especially during the difficult time of COVID-19. I am the salesperson in our small store. We started our business with the equivalent of 20 US dollars, and now our store is worth 100 US dollars. We eat well every day.

May God abundantly bless the “13 Houses” Campaign. We regret that Father Henri Matsinga has been assigned elsewhere. He loves people without distinction and helped us adapt during difficult times, but we quickly understood that God wanted him elsewhere to do good there too.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

In the future, I want to become a nurse to care for the most in need and the poor.

What would you like more people to know about refugees or other newcomers in the community?

I want the world to know that life in the camp is a life without hope and full of sorrow. Refugees are very vulnerable and, as a result, easily manipulated, and many of them are easily taken advantage of. We, the refugees, are highly vulnerable, and we need constant support. Thank you for listening.

Read Doris’s story: a journey from Ghana to Spain here