human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Innocent’s story #whatishome

Home is not only my country. Home is where I am now, where my family is…

Silvia and I met in 2011 when Silvia came with Caritas Italy to volunteer in a youth centre in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, where I was volunteering as well. The centre is a reconciliation project for the different ethnic groups in Burundi. It was established after the civil war ended in 2002 following several decades of continuous conflict. After one year Silvia returned to Europe and then came to visit a few times per year so we could see each other since it was difficult for me to get a visa for Europe.

In March 2014, Silvia got a job with the Belgian development cooperation agency (Enabel, then CBT) in Burundi so we could finally move in together. It was a great opportunity for our relationship. By that time I had also been employed as IT technician at the youth centre. In December 2014 I managed to get a Schengen visa for the first time and could visit Silvia’s family and friends in Italy. We stayed for 3 weeks and we went also to Brussels where Silvia had been living before moving to Burundi and Paris. I actually really liked it. We were planning to come back for another vacation in summer 2014. But then things turned ugly in Burundi: there were a lot of peaceful demonstrations that were brutally pushed back by the police and the government. Whole neighbourhoods started to barricade themselves to protect themselves from the police, regime opponents started disappearing… Our neighbourhood was rather calm but it was scary to see what was happening in my country.

We actually were really lucky because I received my visa in the week when the problems started. Then they actually stopped giving visas for Europe – probably because too many people started applying or they started being afraid that people would not return to Burundi and stay in Europe.

When we were supposed to leave for holidays in June Silvia’s Belgian employer was unsure if they would let her come back after the vacation since the situation was really deteriorating. A few days before we left they told her that she would have to work from Europe during summer. A final decision would be taken in September. We realised that we had to find another solution since my visa was only for one month and if I returned to Burundi without Silvia it would have been almost impossible to receive another visa, especially with the country being in so much turmoil. And even if we returned together in September and the situation would get worse again Silvia would have been evacuated without me since we were not married.

I still don’t know how but we somehow managed to receive all the necessary documents to get married. The bureaucratic hurdles were insane… It was a run between different embassies, government offices,… in Burundi, Italy and Belgium where Silvia was still registered.

We finally got married in Florence, Silvia’s hometown, in June 2015. It was a small ceremony and even though I was sad that my family could not be there I had close friends and it felt like I was among my new family. I had to stay 3 months in Italy so I could get a residence permit that would allow me to come back to Europe in case we were to return to Burundi. But Silvia was actually told to keep working from Europe until the end of the project. In November 2015 we moved to Brussels. I had to restart the procedure to get residence permit here as well and could not leave Belgium for 6 months. I started learning Dutch. (Kirundi and Swahili are my mother tongues but French is an official language so I had learned it in school.) After a training course I recently started working again as IT technician in a big hospital. That was really great. But the biggest blessing is our recently born daughter Chloé. She and Silvia are my home now.