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Belfast charity boss describes Congo massacre as 'Hell on Earth'

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 14/09/2016

Charity workers David McAllister and Tim Magowan; with Consolate, a Tearfund staff member at a refugee camp.
Charity workers David McAllister and Tim Magowan; with Consolate, a Tearfund staff member at a refugee camp.
A displaced man beginning to build a shelter for his family.
Tim Magowan and David McAllister, Belfast charity workers who witnessed the aftermath of a massacre in the Congo. They are pictured with Consolate, a Tearfund staff member, at the displaced people camp.

A Belfast man who witnessed the aftermath of a massacre in the Congo has described it as "Hell on Earth".

Tim Magowan, the Northern Ireland director of charity Tearfund, went to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work on a film about conflict survivors - but arrived just a day after the atrocity in which at least 64 people were killed.

The man he was visiting, David McAllister, witnessed thousands fleeing from their homes during the incident and shot a video.

The next day the Belfast men went to the village the people had been fleeing to and spoke to some of them.

"If Hell had a capital, it was right there," Mr Magowan said.

He added that he had been to other places of poverty and need, but the refugee camp had the biggest impact on him.

"It was easily the place that was most horrifying," he said.

Before going to the DR Congo he had been worried about his safety, but Tearfund has a good risk management system that kept him safe.

The contrast between his situation and the situation of those who had fled the massacre made a huge impression on him.

"They had nothing. There was absolutely no system of support around them," Mr Magowan said.

While they were in the village, he and Mr McAllister spoke to several of the displaced.

One woman, a farmer with eight children, told them of men cutting people to pieces with their machetes.

She said: "We ran away with only the clothes on our bodies."

Another woman told of how her pregnant relative was killed after her baby was cut out of her stomach.

Mr Magowan said her story was "just sheer, raw emotions".

But even though he was in one of the most horrible places he'd ever been, there were positive things happening as well.

"In the middle of that, what I saw was a few sparks of hope," he said.

Mr Magowan was inspired by the people around him, like Mr McAllister, who were using their experiences to make a difference.

Mr McAllister, whose family are known from the BBC1 documentary A Deadly Mission: Belfast To Congo, now works in the DR Congo with Tearfund. The charity works in remote areas with the Government, local partners and other agencies to help conflict survivors recover and rebuild their livelihoods.

When Mr Magowan and Mr McAllister saw how much the refugees needed, they reported their needs to Tearfund.

NI donors raised £10,000 for waterproof roofs, and £82,000 more was sent from the START network, an non-governmental organisation funding pool.

Mr Magowan knew he would see difficult things in Congo, but didn't realise how close he'd be.

"We were there to make a film about conflict survivors… I hadn't reckoned on being caught up in the aftermath," he added.

He said most of the stories he had gathered had more recovery time between their trauma and the interview, but "what we saw in the Congo was in real time".

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