My name is Mgabu Sombeya. Here’s my story.
My father and mother were born during Africa’s colonization period. Father was engaged in one of the first military bands formed by the French in Guinea. During the Second World War my father’s group agreed to help the French fight the Germans as long as Guinea got its independence from France once the war was over. France gave that promise.
Father summoned up people and convinced them to go fight in exchange for freedom and dignity. Many agreed voluntarily, some refused but the French made them go fight. More than half of those who went to war never came back but a few people managed to escape and come back to Guinea.
Unfortunately France didn’t keep its word. We needed a new revolution. This time my father fought France. In 1958 Guinea got its independence. The Head of the General Union of Negro African Workers Sékou Touré became the first president. Before leaving the French divided Africa which resulted into the old war veterans becoming victims of the new regime.
My father was neither a billionaire nor a millionaire, he was a plain patriot and defended his country’s interests. He was a military officer and wrote many books about his life. By the way, he wrote in our language, Guinean people have their own writing system. Moreover, my father planted a huge mango plantation, 3 hectares. This is the heritage he left for us. These plantations helped our family live back then but they are now cruelly destroyed.
I never stop thanking my father who gave me a good education. In 1975 when I was 8 years old father sent me to school so that I didn’t spend my life illiterate. I studied French and Arabic there but skipped the 10th grade because I knew I would never go to university – you had to study for 19 years to graduate which is too long. My father grew old by then so I dreamed of getting a profession and taking care of him. He did a lot for us and deserved some rest. If I went to college I would be able to work for myself and take care of my father and mother.
God helped me achieve what I had planned. I went to a professional college to study upholstery and furniture decoration in Kankan, the second largest city in Guinea. I spent a year at a workshop, saved up money and bought tools that would be enough to start my own business.
In 1991 I launched my own business. This small production company provided me with everything and allowed me to buy two plots and build two houses. In 2000 I got married and my wife gave birth to four children, two boys and two girls.
I’ve been keeping an eye on politics since 1993. By 2007 I became the Head the Labor Youth Union of our district. I had many connections with different politicians and syndicates, we were ll united by patriotic ideas. How did the problems with the military arise? It all started with the illegal exploitation of our forest and wood. At some point they forbade us to he clear the forest, blocked my equipment and sold the land to the Chinese. We, the entrepreneurs of the region, found ourselves trapped. If we needed to buy wood we had to go to Côte D’Ivoire or Liberia. This was the time we started talking about our rights openly.
Military officers started detaining us. They assigned their own military commander to keep exploiting our natural resources, gold and diamonds first and foremost. Small villages turned out to be the most vulnerable. My home village fell victim as well, they took our land and started gold- and diamond-mining, without any benefit for the region or nation. Some villages have no schools, roads or drinking water. But military officers don’t care, their children are studying in America and Europe.
Every Friday night a small plane lands and loads a few kilos of gold and diamonds to carry them to Morocco. In Morocco the stones are turned into money and put on bank accounts.
We, the young patriots, started fighting the illegal exploitation of our resources. Murders, imprisonments, torture… It was a difficult time. Elections only made everything worse. Elections in Guinea are held every 4 years but each time they bring only new murders and arrests. During the 1998 election I was detained and tortured. In 2001 the military held a referendum to change the Constitution, we organized a protest, my friends and I got imprisoned again.
To maintain their power, the military do what they want and escape punishment, they steal and kill. Alpha Condé managed to keep his presidency only by coming to all terms with the military and agreed to the barbaric exploitation of natural resources. Tortures of young patriots and workers are still happening, between 2010 and 2015 the military committed a lot of new murders.
In Guinea one can be killed anywhere, at home, in the street, even in a sacred place. I used to know Thierno Aliou Diaouné, the Youth and Sports Minister, well. He always defended national interests and supported the illegally arrested young people. In 2010 he had to leave office due to his patriotic activity. He started working in one of Guinea’s UN offices. He was murdered in his own car in the center of Conakry on February 8. Old revenge.
I myself didn’t have enough time for politics although I was often invited to join parties, I was active and knew a lot of people. But I had 15 employees at the furniture factory and I worked day and night to provide for my big family. I paid taxes and violated no laws.
The national strike of 2007 was organized by Dr. Ibrahima Fofana, the leader of the United Trade Union of Guinean Workers. He was the only person who started talking about our problems openly, about the tens of persecuted who found themselves deported or in jail. He met with the President of Mali twice, asked him to come to Guinea and negotiate with the military authorities and their tribunal. Much to our regret, Dr. Ibrahima Fofana was murdered. The case wasn’t investigated. His death caused great despair and became yet another evidence of the military mayhem in Guinea.
During the strike in my district one of the gendarmes killed three students. Other students responded by killing the gendarme and burning down the local gendarmery office. More than 50 students were injured. Before the protest I was warned by the military. They threatened to hold me responsible for anything happening in my district if I went out into the street that day. But I couldn’t stay home, everyone joined the protest, even children. It wasn’t just a local strike, it turned nation-wide and swept neighboring countries. Many different groups took part in the protest, it was organized well throughout the country: women, children, students, political parties, civic organizations.
I was detained and taken to a military camp. We were tortured and deprived of food for 5 days. The military accused me of organizing a rebellion. Colonel Bouréma Condé made it clear to me that if ordinary people killed a military officer, the military would kill 100 people in return. He said they would kill every one of us, me and my friends, everyone responsible for student mobilization. But students have they own organizational forces in universities, I’m not a student.
I didn’t eat for 5 days. Two of my friends died of torture. When my older brother learned about what was happening he did everything possible to reason with the guards. He paid a lot of money to have them break a jail window and let me escape at night. My life was saved.
I went to my aunt’s village but she got scared and told me to go to another village. I found shelter at my friend’s place and left for Conakry afterwards to meet the leaders of the syndicate who had contacted me earlier. By that time everyone was in jail. I set out to see Nansadi Berete, the permanent secretary of the Guinean People’s Assembly party. He was surprised to see me since he thought I was dead.
He showed me a list of those wanted by the military tribunal. My name was number five. Berete helped me; he provided me with an ID, some money and advised me to go to Eastern Africa which had free access to other countries. The money he gave wasn’t enough so I borrowed 3 000 dollars from a friend. It wasn’t just a debt to a friend, I had to secure it with pledged property, my house.
Later I learned that the military were looking for me at my house, they burned my car and killed my dog in my own yard.
I went to Bamako, then to Burkina Faso, then to Nigeria. I crossed Sahara on foot. I walked more than 500 kilometers across the desert, now I cannot even believe I did it. I suffered a lot. We spent a month between Nigeria and Libya, three of us died, never in my life have I seen so much sufferings and pain.
In Libya we were detained by police at once. We found ourselves in jail for illegal border crossing. I spent a month there until the administration came to the jail with an inspection. At that point I asked for asylum. The police commissioner said that Libya didn’t sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and they would simply let me go. He drove me to the city in his car and gave me 200 dinars, which is about 160 dollars, said he couldn’t help me in any other way.
He told me to go to Tripoli and find The Red Cross there. But I couldn’t get there. I spent several months in a town 2 000 kilometers away from Tripoli, worked illegally at nights to survive, I could be arrested during the day. I managed to get in touch with my relatives who told me I’d lost everything, my wife and brother could no longer send me money via bank transfers. I had nothing left. My life was completely ruined.
I came to Russia in February 2010. My first trip in Moscow subway ended in me getting attacked and losing all money. It was cold, I got sick. I asked a random person how I could find a refugee camp, he sent me to Saint-Petersburg. I arrived in Saint-Petersburg and started asking people around to show me the refugee camp. I was exhausted but then I met a guy from Guinea who came from a camp in Belarus. I decided to go to Belarus and ask for asylum there.
In Belarus I was immediately put into hospital for a check-up, I wasn’t feeling well. They paid for 5 days of medical treatment and medication. Then they told me to go back to Russia and ask for asylum there since I had a valid Russian visa but no Belarusian one, so I wasn’t entitled to ask for asylum in Belarus by law.
I had no idea how to properly apply for asylum. For the first time in my life I was outside of Africa. In Belarus I was given 200 dollars for transport and medication and the address of the migration service in Saint-Petersburg. I tried to look for the refugee camp but no one could tell me anything. I had nowhere to live. At the train station someone gave me the address of the Civic Assistance Committee and I went to Moscow.
I came to Moscow, went to Civic Assistance and asked for asylum. Finally I got help and applied to migration services. Shortly after that I went to a refugee camp in Perm.
This is my story. If you see any other version of it don’t believe it, it’s all slander distributed by those who want to harm me and deprive me of my rights. If I wasn’t persecuted by the military tribunal I would have never left my own home. I left my family there, my children. Everyone wants some peace in their life, I had a decent peaceful life back in my country. Now I’ve lost my dignity. No other country can give me a better life than the one I had in my country.
These days I can’t take care of my children, my wife is asking me for divorce because of it, she has lost hope and is suffering too. At the moment she is staying in Bamako with the children because of the Ebola threat which has spread in Guinea. This disease has taken the lives of 10 000 people in three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Several countries have closed their borders for Guinean people. Russia has sent 45 doctors and 10 million dollars to Guinea to help.
I’m thankful to Russia who signed the Geneva Refugee Convention. Russia is fulfilling the obligations it accepted by taking us in, I received my refugee status here. Unfortunately, the status has been taken away from me for reasons which don’t comply neither with my interview not with my problems. They say, the economic situation is Guinea is better now.
However I’ve never asked for an economic asylum, I’ve never had financial difficulties in my country. The last question they asked before giving me the refugee status was about the current president of Guinea – Alpha Condé. In 2010 when he wasn’t the president yet, I was asked whether I would be able to go back home if he won the election. I said no since my problem wasn’t connected with the elections in any way. Even if my older brother became Guinea’s president I still wouldn’t be able to come home. Military tribunal persecution and military officers’ threats to me do not depend on the president. The military are subordinate to their leaders. After this interview I was given the refugee status based on the threats addressed to me and persecution. I was very surprised when I was divested of this status on grounds of a reason not connected with my problems or interview.
Colonel Bouréma Condé who tortured me back in 2007 is now a General. Recently, on February 26, 2015, he was assigned as minister of territorial administration. Through his influence military power spreads to all regions of the country, military officers take all ministerial positions in the government. Even the president is subjected to the pressure of the military, even he is living in fear. Nobody in Guinea knows where the president and his family sleep, his palace was bombed by the military in 2011. Insecurity and threats of bloody revenge are turning common.
Today I’m the most miserable refugee in Russia. Never in my life have I imagined that I would become a refugee because of all these problems. I need medical assistance, I’m sick, I’m depressed, I’m traumatized by this situation. I’m looking for help to go to another country but since I haven’t found it yet, I have to apply for temporary asylum in Russia once again. I would agree to asylum anywhere except Western Africa.
I’m thankful to all those who helped me in Russia, financially, legally and even those who don’t like me and wish no good for me. Gratitude is the last haven for my dignity. I’m living in Nakhabino now with my friends. I can’t go back. Besides the military I’m scared of the Ebola epidemic which everyone has forgotten about. My wife hasn’t talked to me since she asked for divorce.
I can’t do anything here. I’m great at assembling furniture but I have no academic degree papers on me, I don’t even have the refugee status, no one wants to hire me. All I can do is distribute leaflets, but the money is enough only for food.
I know that in Russia I cannot even die peacefully. We are trying to bury our friend here or send his body back home but we cannot get so much as his body from the morgue. We don’t have the papers. We don’t have the money for repatriation either.
What am I going to do next? I don’t have any idea but I have a lot of fears.
I don’t understand anything anymore.
Translated by Maria Esipchuk
Edited by Elena Srapyan