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The Rwandan Survivors in the UK and the Legacy of the Genocide

April the 6th 1994 - 8.30 p.m. Kigali time: Rwanda's presidential jet is shot down by two missiles on its approach to Kigali airport, killing the Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, Deogratias Nsabimana chief of staff, Elie Sagatwa chief of presidential security and Juvénal Renzaho, a chief political adviser of president Habyarimana. Within an hour of the plane crash, Hutu militia set up hundreds of roadblocks around the capital city to stop Tutsis or moderate Hutus from escaping. Hours later, assassinations of political figures who did not fully support Habyarimana's dictatorship begin. Over the next hundred days, approximately 800,000 Tutsis and 10,000 moderate Hutus are killed throughout the country, 'it was the twentieth century's fastest genocide' (Straus, 2008, p 41).

A substantial amount of literature has been written and published in relation to the Rwandan genocide1. Factors such as the causes behind it, the dynamics of its implementation, the responsibility that the Hutu leaders had in the spreading of the violence and the negligence on the part of Western countries, have been extensively investigated. Moreover and in recent years, many authors have written books and articles reporting the experiences of the survivors, of the local soldiers and of the international peacekeepers who witnessed the genocide. Some of them (Hatzfeld, 2005/2008; Clark and Kaufman, 2008; Fusaschi, 2009; Larson, 2009 and Rurangwa, 2009) have attempted to understand how a country in which almost the entire population have been involved in the genocide (as killers, victims or victims’ relatives and friends) can rebuild their lives. In doing so, they also analyse how the reconciliation of survivors and génocidaires2 has been approached and managed, taking into account that problems such as the high number of orphans (as a result of the violence), the lack of shelter, the high percentage of the population who are HIV positive and the general poor living conditions all which continue to affect the lives of the majority of survivors (as well as those of thousands of Rwandans).

As a consequence of the genocide, many Rwandans fled the country, often choosing European countries as their destination. There were many different reasons for the emigration of génocidaires and survivors; the former, trying to avoid the trials they were expected to attend for the crimes that they had committed; and the latter wanting to re-build their lives away from Rwanda. Belgium, which held rule over Rwanda from 1921 to 1962, France, which in the years before the genocide was Rwanda's principal international backer, and the United Kingdom (UK) – which has recently agreed for Rwanda to become a member of the Commonwealth of Nations – have been the main prevailing destinations.

Some of these Rwandan emigrants have claimed for asylum and others have obtained the status of refugee in the hosting countries whilst many of them have resettled and now have families and jobs and are well integrated in the countries that they are living in. However, it is undoubtedly the case that those who experienced the genocide in 1994 (similar to those who experienced the Holocaust, and other past genocides such as the Cambodian or the Serbian ones), will always have to deal and to cope with the traumatic memories of their past.

But how do the survivors explain to themselves what happened during the genocide? And how do they manage to cope with having such a traumatic past? And finally, how have they moved on with their lives as refugees in another country? These are the main questions the present research explores in order to address how survivors currently living in the UK have attempted to re-build their lives.

Research approach and rationale
In order to better understand how survivors who are currently living in the UK deal with their traumatic pasts and attempt to re-build their lives in the UK, a small group of survivors of the genocide, as well as two practitioners who have been working with them over the past few years, were interviewed. Individual interviews which were carried out, allowing the researcher, alongside with the survivors, to re-construct and understand the ways in which they have dealt/coped, and/or live on with the memories of their past whilst building their new lives in the UK.

Based on existing literature in relation to Rwanda, the present research will first provide the reader with the background information, which outlines the events leading to the genocide. Such an analysis is necessary for the comprehension of the main events that took place in the aftermath of the genocide. The last part of the literature review also provides useful information regarding the current political and social situation of Rwanda, as well as some issues that survivors in post-genocide Rwanda have to face.

Then, based on what emerged from the carried out interviews, the research highlights how Rwandan survivors who are currently living in the UK are coping every day with the events of their past and attempt to build up a future for themselves and/or their families. The analysis will also take into consideration the effects that British immigration policies have (and have had), as well as the civil society's responses to the arrival of Rwandan refugees.

Furthermore, the research will present how the survivors (have tried to) explain to themselves the events that they experienced during the genocide. The dramatic nature of the events they have been through does not make it easy for them to come to terms with the past. Nevertheless, the first step in the acceptance of a traumatic event is the understanding of its cause(s). The analysis of the answers provided by the interviewees highlights the various ways in which each survivor has attempted to overcome the sufferance and loss that he/she underwent.

Finally, the research explores the various ways in which this particular group of survivors have tried to reconcile with their past, Rwanda as a nation, with those who were/are the cause of the genocide and those who did not intervene to stop the massacres. Reconciliation is a highly personal experience, which cannot be imposed from the outside or with a top-down approach, as the Rwandan government seems to be attempting to do. On the contrary, the survivors' accounts gave an insight into their own, unique personal journeys towards new beginnings and these accounts are presented in the second half of this work.

Mostra/Nascondi contenuto.
1) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE GENOCIDE The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, which took place in Rwanda in 1994, was not an unexpected explosion of violence, rather the ‘logical’ consequence of years of tension and violence between Hutus and Tutsis in the country. This section will illustrate the main historical events that eventually led to the genocide, starting with the end of the nineteenth century, when Rwanda was going to become a German colony for the first time in its history. 1.1 Pre-colonial Rwanda Rwanda’s population (as well as Burundi's) comprises of three main social groupings: the Hutus, the Tutsis, and the small minority Twa 3 . Hutus and Tutsis (the hatred between the two was the cause of the genocide) are most certainly not ‘tribal’, as it is erroneously pictured in some superficial analysis of the events of 1994. In fact, the two main groups (the Twa represent a minority living predominantly in the mountain forests) speak the same language (Kinyarwanda), profess the same religion (Christian, mainly Roman Catholic), belong to the same clans and share the same cultural practices, myths and traditions. Finally, also they live in the same regions, often in the same neighbourhoods and intermarriage is a common occurrence (with reference to, Lemarchand, 1970; Pottier, 2002 and Fusaschi, 2009). The clans in Rwanda before the arrival of the colonizers were said to have shared a common 3 The ethnic name in Kinyarwanda is mu-Hutu, mu-Tutsi, mu-Twa in the singular, ba-Hutu, ba-Tutsi, ba-Twa, in the plural (Fusaschi, 2000, p.23). 9

Tesi di Laurea Magistrale

Facoltà: Scienze della Formazione

Autore: Lorenzo Picco Contatta »

Composta da 259 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 11 click dal 27/07/2012.


Consultata integralmente una volta.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.