Aline Binyungu Nzigire, a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and current resident of Providence, Rhode Island, will be a participant in LIRS’s 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy. She is the founder of the non-profit organization Women Refugee Care (WRC) providing assistance in the DRC and Rhode Island. In today’s blog post, she shares her courageous journey as an advocate for women’s and children’s rights.
Aline Binyungu Nzigire writes:
I was born in a country where the custom prevails against rights. I witnessed firsthand how much women and children were discriminated against. I was raised in the environment where a girl going to school was a luxury. I made a personal vow: if I become educated and get a chance, I will defend women’s and children’s rights.
Numerous years of ongoing conflict in eastern DRC have taken a tremendous toll on women. For 20 years, the DRC has been the scene of a conflict characterized by violence of unprecedented scale and brutality. All fighters use violence as a weapon of war to enslave the victims and terrorize the population.
In the DRC, I worked in legal and education sectors. I had to fight with the government and the army in spite of armed groups perpetrating rape with impunity. I worked with churches and local communities to raise awareness against the evil. I broadcasted on the radio to warn all those who commit abuse against women and deprived girls of their rights.
In December 2007, a group of women were coming back from the market to their village; they met a battalion of military who arrested and searched them, took everything they were bringing back from the market, and then they raped them. Among them was a 12 year old girl. I received the news the next day and I brought the victims to the hospital so that they received the proper care. In the meantime, I made inquiries to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Unfortunately, I began to receive anonymous phone calls and messages forbidding me to pursue the matter, under pain of death.
Armed men came to my house for the first time. They shot bullets at my house. I was tortured, and threatened with death if I testified at the trial. I did not quit and I testified at court so that justice could prevail. They came back for the second time; it was very horrible and our lives were almost ended. I had a crucial moment of torture and violence that I cannot describe here. After the attackers left, I made the decision to leave because I feared they would come back. They returned one hour later. They burned my house, the organization’s vehicles, and the office.
So, I began a long journey that took me and my family 10 days walking on foot, only at night, to the border of neighboring Rwanda. I crossed the border by paying bribes and I took the bus to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where I spent two nights before continuing to the Ugandan capital, Kampala. I left for Bangkok in April 2008 with my husband and my five children. I spent almost five and a half years in Bangkok seeking asylum with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) where I continued to stand up to advocate for refugee rights. It is painful, when you are forced to leave your home, your land, your country by force and under threat of death. The journey is hard and the transition is full of trauma.
I just arrived in the United States at 42 years old with my husband and six children in January 2014 and I couldn’t close my hands, but continue to advocate for refugees. Participating in the Academy is a great opportunity for me to share my story and raise awareness about refugees and immigrants. Refugees are resettled in the Unites States but many don’t know exactly what a refugee’s life is like back in the camps and how much it affected them. I will ask my legislators to be mindful to the concern of refugees and support their integration into American life as quickly as possible.
I expect to bring experience back from the Academy that will help my community. In the future, I aim to build a strong network of advocacy for refugees and immigrants, which will help us stay connected and exchange experiences. Refugees need more support and mentoring for their adjustment in United States.
I am a former refugee but I remain a refugee.