(1/2) In the Congo, I was a pastor, a politician, a teacher and a trade unionist. So when my people, the Kasai tribe, started being persecuted, I was one of the most visible targets. Eventually, I had to flee, without my family, to the border of Zambia, where many Kasai people were living. One day, we were told we had 2 hours to leave and go back to our region, and this caused a great panic.
Finally, a group of us decided to cross the border at night and seek asylum. By the time the Zambian police arrived that morning, there were 400 people sitting at their station. And as I was one of only two people who spoke English, it was up to me and him to explain that we were running away because the Kasai people were being killed.
Soon, 800 people had arrived at the police station, and they kept on coming. Again, I explained the situation, but the Zambians didn’t know whether to believe me. Then, officials from the consulate of the Congo came and said, ‘These people are smugglers, not asylum seekers. The only thing to do is to organise a bus and send them back.’
We said to the Zambians, ‘Go to the Congo, see what is happening, these people are packed into the train station. Are they all smugglers?’ So they went and saw that the situation was really grave for us. But the consulate continued saying we were not asylum seekers.
Finally, the Zambians said they were going to organise buses to take us back to our country. Then we said, ‘If you send us back to the Congo, we are going to die. Why don’t you just kill us now instead of putting us in your bus?’ And we all laid down on the ground. Immediately, they realised it was serious, and they decided to move us from the border into the bush. Three days later, there were 1400 of us there. The Red Cross was there. The United High Commission was there. I hardly had time to sleep because I had to communicate with everyone!
2 months after that, we were given refugee status, and sent far away, to a camp where there were more than 300,000 refugees from many different countries. At that camp, they gave you land, they gave you tools, and you had to go in the bush, cut the grass and trees, build your house, and grow your own food. It’s difficult if you have never had to do that before. But soon, with the assistance of the Red Cross, my wife and children joined me, one by one, to the camp, and finally, our family was complete again.
I started gathering the local children to keep them out of the bush because I was worried that they might be bitten by snakes. That’s how the officials noticed me and when I told them I was a teacher, they gave me responsibility for the supervision of the education of children and general literacy for adults. I also started running a church from there. And whenever there was a problem, people called me because I was the only one who could speak English. For 7 years, I worked non stop in the camp. I hardly slept. My body was tired, but I kept on going.
Then, in 2003, my family was accepted by Australia in the UNHCR resettlement program. At first, we were sad, because we had never heard of Australia, but we soon realised we were very lucky!
Bengankuna Constantin (Costa)
The Congo (DRC)
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