Baby Care

‘They lost almost everything’: photographing the terror and joy of refugees in DRC | Global development

TThe image is joyful. Laure, a midwife at a health center in Ndu, a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, holds a healthy newborn girl in her arms. The baby’s mother, Ester, was at the health center for a postnatal appointment after giving birth to twins.

Weeks earlier, when she was heavily pregnant and had to give birth anytime, Ester was forced to leave her home in Bangassou, across a river, in neighboring Central African Republic.

In January, a coalition of armed groups attacked the city in an attempt to quash December’s presidential vote, forcing thousands to flee their homes. When the rebels moved to the capital Bangui, 10,000 refugees arrived in a single day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo across the Oubangui River. Others went to Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo.

Ester and her eldest daughter, Princia, reached Ndu, about 4 km (2.5 miles), where she gave birth. She sought medical treatment at the village health center, but there were complications and she needed more specialized help, which was only available at the Bangassou hospital. In the middle of labor, she was brought back by canoe across the river to the Bangassou regional hospital, supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) since 2014. There, she underwent an emergency cesarean section. to deliver twins.

Alexis Huguet, French photojournalist based in Central Africa since 2017, covered the humanitarian crisis along the border for Agence France-Presse and MSF.

“When [people] fled at the beginning of January, they were really scared, ”he recalls. “[The forces] attacked with a heavy weapon. There was bombardment in Bangassou. People heard the shelling and gunfire and ran to the river to cross to the Congo. Some tried to find canoes, others swam. Some of them were pregnant. It was a mess, it was crazy.

It was not the first time that Huguet went to Bangassou and Ndu. He was in the zone covering a similar situation in 2017. “It was almost the same,” he says. “At the time, Bangassou was attacked by an armed group and tens of thousands of people had to flee their homes.

Ester's eldest daughter, Princia, with one of the newborn twins.
Ester’s eldest daughter, Princia, with one of the newborn twins. Photography: Alexis Huguet / MSF

In 2018, the situation improved and people returned home, only for more unrest and conflict to unfold three years later. “It is a symbol of what has happened in the Central African Republic in recent years. The authorities, with the support of donors, have attempted to rebuild the country. In a few weeks, they lost almost everything, ”says Huguet.

He met some of the same people who fled three years ago. “I asked what they were doing here. They told me that they had to flee again because the situation deteriorated very quickly.

He saw them come back to rebuild the old makeshift shelters they had used three years before. He adds: “It was really sad.”

When Huguet met Ester during her postnatal appointment, she told him that she hoped the situation would calm down enough to return safe and sound to Bangassou with Princia and the twins Rhode and Laure, named after the midwife. who helped Ester. He has no idea where she and her daughters are now, or what they are doing.

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