Chapter X: Returning


“Why won’t people return to their homes?” “It seems like they want to benefit from the situation.” “They’re taking the opportunity to start a new life in another place.” “They refuse to return even though the war is over.” This is the kind of sentiment expressed by those who are suspicious of people fleeing war.

Florence Yadonga is one of those who returned home. Florence is from a small village called Bogidi. A group of armed men burned down all the houses and chased the villagers as they fled across the fields. Here’s how Florence remembers it:

Tired of running, Florence and her family decided to return home. “When we returned, we saw our home had been destroyed, so we would have to repair it,” says Florence. “But, if we want to totally rebuild it, we’ll need more materials. Life carries on without security. If I go to the fields, I don’t go very far from here because I’m afraid that the armed men might attack me.”

That was the scene awaiting Florence on her return: a torched house, a life to rebuild, peace that never seems to arrive.

Paulin Borne, a father of six, also decided to return home. He remembers the journey they made to escape the violence:

On returning home, Paulin started to rebuild the family’s group of small houses. He covered roofs with straw, but didn’t fully rebuild the damaged walls. Why not? “The situation is calm now, but I’m only going to rebuild when there’s peace,” says Paulin. “Without peace, there’s no point.”

Like many others, Paulin has returned home after the war yet does not dare to fix everything for fear that the fighting will start up again.

Florence and Paulin have endured years of displacement, but they’ve not lost any of their loved ones. Dina Ngakoutou, aged 25, hasn’t been so lucky. “The Séléka came into our village and looted people’s homes, so I fled with my mother, father and my children,” says Dina. “They killed my husband when he fled.” Her story doesn’t end there: the family had to flee again.

Dina decided to leave the camp for displaced people and return to her home close to Batangafo’s airport. She found the house “in a miserable state”. It had been ransacked, but not burned, so at least they were able to repair it. Dina says that she has no intention of leaving it again, although she sees men from the militia which killed her husband patrol the street every night.

For many refugees and displaced people, the expression “returning home” is meaningless. Which home? To return when peace has not yet been restored comes at a heavy price: building a new home, continuing to live with war, seeing first-hand how the past keeps repeating itself. Thinking about the next escape. Wondering about how to stay alive.