One Family’s Journey to Safety in the Congo

Congo
Photographer Brian Sokol captured the Longue family’s escape from violence in the Central African Republic. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR

Since April 2013, some 40,000 residents of the Central African Republic have fled violence and crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s never easy fleeing your home, but for the Longue family, the journey was even harder than that of most refugees—since childhood, Marcelin Longue has been unable to use his legs. In his home village of Libo, Longue often got around with the assistance of a wheelchair. But when forces from a militia alliance called the Seleka arrived, they not only took his wheelchair—they killed his brother. The incident solidified Longue’s desire to move his family across the Oubangi River to safety in the DRC.

Longue’s wife, however, was more than eight months pregnant, and they had two small children to bring with them. Despite the dangers, the family made it across the border to a refuge called the Batanga Transit Center, where they received assistance from the United Nations refugee agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Less than a week later, Longue’s wife gave birth to a baby boy.

Located on the shores of the Oubangi River, Batanga is across the water from the Central African Republic and the Seleka forces stationed there. UNHCR has been working to build and open camps for Central African refugees, and the Longue family were among the first to be transferred from Batanga to the new Boyabo refugee camp, a safe distance from the border. Panos Pictures' Brian Sokol captured the Longue family story and the rhythms of life in both Batanga and Boyabo.

 
 
Congo2 Longue’s wife does laundry on the banks of the Oubangi River. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo3 Marcelin Longue stands in the doorway of the leaky shelter that his family shared with other refugees in the Batanga Transit Center. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo4 Refugees wait with their luggage to be transferred to the Boyabo refugee camp from the Batanga Transit Center. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo5 The Oubangi River serves as a source of water and a place to bathe. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo6 Refugees wait with their luggage to begin the transfer to a new refugee camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo7 The first relocation vehicles depart from the Batanga Transit Center and head for the Boyabo camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo8 Upon arrival at the Boyabo camp, new arrivals receive a briefing. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo9 After registration and a medical examination, the Longue family is shown to its their shelter. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo10 The Longue family at the Boyabo refugee camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo11 Marcelin Longue and his children received a medical check-up the day before they left the Batanga Transit Center. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo12 A 3-year-old boy, Eloge, has his height checked and is screened for malnutrition and other medical conditions at the Boyabo camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo13 Josue is weighed after arrival in the new camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo14 Marcelin Longue gets a hot meal at the Batanga Transit Center. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo15 Longue’s wife does dishes at the Boyabo refugee camp. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
Congo16 Longue’s wife holds Josue inside the communal shelter her family shared at Batanga Transit Center. Brian Sokol for the UNHCR
These images are all part of Sokol’s larger narrative about refugee issues around the world called “The Most Important Thing.” Find him on Instagram.
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