During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.
Raped in the DRC
N was born in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She married her husband in 2011 and they lived together. Her husband ran a business while N stayed at home and farmed on the land.
At the end of 2011, soldiers came to their house and accused N and her husband of helping the rebels. This was a common accusation and many people in the village had been approached by soldiers, who would arrest the men and rape the women.
N’s husband told them that they were not supporting the rebels but the soldiers refused to believe him and arrested him, taking him to prison and leaving N behind with their child. When a friend heard about what had happened, the friend bribed the soldiers to release N’s husband, who then fled the DRC, leaving N behind without his protection.
After discovering that N’s husband had run away, the soldiers returned to her house. She tried to convince them that she did not know where her husband had gone but they continued to threaten her. Two soldiers raped N repeatedly. They warned N that they were going to come back so she ran away during the night. Her friend told her that her husband had fled to South Africa, so she followed him, arriving in the country in February 2014. She applied for asylum immediately.
N’s application for asylum was rejected despite the ongoing civil war in the DRC and in Goma, specifically. The DRC has been labelled “the rape capital of the world” by the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallstrom. A recent UN report indicates that sexual violence remains a serious concern in the DRC. Between January and October this year, the UNHCR has assisted 1,564 people survivors of sexual violence – although many rapes go unreported.
Recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has released a new set of international guidelines calling for countries to adopt a more gender-sensitive approach to dealing with women refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people. “These guidelines reinforce that no woman or girl shall be returned to persecution or gender-based violence and that they have a right to seek asylum,” UNHCR’s Director of International Protection, Mr Volker Türk explains. N’s application for asylum in South Africa should have been granted.