Asylum Stories: Rwandan ‘peace camps’, persecution and the struggle to be believed
Drawing by the lovely and talented Emanuela Colaci
The first in a series of posts that portray the complex journeys of individual asylum seekers that are too easily overlooked in the public debate.
S is a Hutu-Tutsi girl who, like many young Rwandans was called to go to the Ingando camps. Described by the Rwandan government as “programmes for peace education” for Rwandan youth and as aiming to be a form of “education for good governance”, the idea of the Ingando camps seems in line with the stance that Rwanda has taken on grassroots, community led transitional justice. However, despite this description, there is strong evidence that Ingando camps are highly militarized. S, being of mixed descent was ascribed Tutsi identity by her community, yet still found herself in a position of inbetweenness. Upon arrival at the Ingando camp she was subject to high levels of violence, discrimination, and repeated abuse, experiencing sexual harassment and multiple episodes of rape. She found herself pregnant twice by the same aggressor and was forced to abort the first of her children. Rejected by her family, unheard by her school principal and afraid to denounce the facts to the police, she fled to Cameroon in 2006, where she later married a Rwandan refugee of Hutu origin – causing her further marginalisation and rejection by her family.
When the weighted words, “peace education” are used to describe a programme of transitional justice, assumptions are formed in the mind. Hailed by local and international media as a progressive and locally based method of dealing with the atrocities, grief and suffering left behind by genocide, the Ingando programme fits into a story of long awaited good following a gruelling period of tragedy. Despite the lifetime of persecution faced by S, when she applied for asylum in Europe the authorities were not immediately convinced of her need for protection.
After the initial rejection, S’s legal representative came to Asylos requesting information on the reality of the Ingando camps and for information to substantiate her claim. Using a variety of research techniques for data collection, such as academic sources and (social) media analysis, Asylos’s researchers were able to uncover and highlight the highly politicised nature of the Ingando programme as well as the sometimes violent and abusive behavior of the authorities involved in the camp. The research meant the context of S’s story, with all its nuances and the power dynamics involved could be more clearly seen, thus adding a layer of credibility to a complicated story. After a long and difficult struggle, S was granted asylum in France. It is because of the hard work and dedication of Asylos’s volunteers and the legal representative, that stories such as S’s, are given a chance at equal access to justice based on proof and not upon prejudice.