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.
A victim of civil war
A is a 40-year-old women who was born in Burundi to a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father. Like in neighbouring Rwanda, the tension between the two ethnicities led to untold suffering for the respective populations, with an estimated 250 000 – 300 000 people killed in Burundi during their civil war from 1993 to 2005. In 2005, the rebel group, National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy, who are pro-Hutu, took power and Pierre Nkurunziza was elected as president.
Since then, conflict has not abated in the country. When A made her asylum application in 2011, reports indicated that up to 20 people were being killed every day in politically-motivated murders.
A’s hardship began in 1995 when Hutu rebels killed her mother. Fearing that he would be killed as an act of revenge for his wife’s death, A’s father fled Burundi. A was raped by rebels and contracted HIV. Daily, she was threatened by the rebel group. Fearing she would be recruited into the group, she decided to flee the country. In 2005, she crossed the border into Tanzania with a group of other refugees. Due to the proximity of Tanzania to Burundi and fearing for her safety, she decided to travel to South Africa.
When she applied for asylum, the Refugee Status Determination Officer (RSDO) rejected her application stating that she would be safe to return to Burundi. The officer claims that Burundi is “on its way to increased stability” and that, “more than 46 000 Burundian refugees want to return”.
Ahead of country elections in 2015, Amnesty International has indicated that unrest continues. In a report entitled, “Burundi: Locked down: A shrinking of political space” (July 2014), the international body has documented an increase in violations of individuals’ rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, including the harassment and intimidation of activists and journalists. While A is not a member of any political party, she knows that the people who killed her mother are still living in her home village. As a half-Tutsi, she fears ethnic persecution by the Hutu majority, who controls the government and police services.