Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Caroline's story

Caroline was a political activist in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) campaigning against the human rights abuses of the Mobutu regime. She was the president of the women’s opposition inside the Mouvement National Congolais .

In 1994 Mobuto sent forces to Caroline’s home to arrest her. When Caroline’s husband, Jean, sought to defend her, the soldiers killed him in front of her and took her to prison. Caroline spent two and a half years in prison, where she was raped and tortured. She was only released when Laurent Desire Kabila’s coalition of opposition forces the Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaire forced Mobuto to flee the country in 1997.

After her release from prison fighting broke out between Hutu Rwandans and Congolese ethnic Tutsis. In the chaos, Caroline lost three of her seven children and because her husband was half-Rwandan she had to protect her brother-in-law and his children from reprisals. A year later in an attack on her village, her house was burnt down with two of her grandchildren, aged 10 and 12, inside. They were both burned to death.

Caroline fled to the capital, Kinshasa, with just two grandchildren 2003 where for a time she was sheltered by a friend but she was soon turned out because her friend was too scared of being found out by troops.

Caroline found someone to look after her grandchildren and fled to England with an associate who regularly travelled to the UK on business. She believed her daughter, Helene, was living in London and she had a phone number for her from a family friend. When she got to Gatwick airport in October 2004, she immediately claimed asylum. Later she was re-united with Helene, the only one of her seven children she knows to be alive. Helene, living in Europe for the previous 10 years, was sure her mother was dead.

Sadly this was not the end of Caroline’s troubles. Five years on, she is still waiting for her asylum claim to be processed. She does not know if one day she will be deported. Unable to continue to send money to Kinshasa, her grandchildren were kicked out onto the streets. Through a London charity, she has recently managed to re-locate the young girls, now 12 and 8, and they are now being sheltered in a church. Caroline’s sister was recently killed by soldiers searching for Caroline.

Caroline has been on anti-depressants for the last five years, unable to come to terms with the trauma she has suffered and the violence that has torn her family apart. She has been offered accommodation, but it is two hours from her daughter and four grand children on whom she is so dependent. She is now 63 years old and craves nothing more than a peaceful old age, close to her remaining family. She would like to be able to work to support herself and grandchildren in Kinshasa, without relying on the charity of others.

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