Refugee from the Congo: ‘I’ve Come from Death’

Alen and Clair Esube Tabve, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, came to us in January this year – it was absolutely freezing and their two small children were with them with no place and no means by which to live. Unfortunately since then almost nothing has changed – Although we helped them start the procedure to receive refugee status, the whole family is in desperate need. We decided to share their story and to ask for help.

Refugee from the Congo: ‘I’ve Come from Death’

Country of a million refugees

The family fled their homeland because of persecution and torture due to President Joseph Kabila beginning a widespread repression in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. You could call Alen and Clair second-generation refugees – Alen’s parent’s hometown is in Southern Kivu, one of the most problematic provinces of the DRC. ‘All the wars in Congo start in my Kivu’ says Alen with a sad smile. He’s not wrong – the border with Rwanda is an area still full of numerous armed groups fighting each other as well as the government. Therefore Alen’s family, during this particularly dangerous time, were forced to separate all over the DRC. Several left – one older sister lived in Botswana, one in Tanzania and another Thailand.

His wife Clair is from the Katanga region, no safer than Kivu.

‘According to UNHCR in 2015 there were more than 540 thousand refugees from Congo in the world, with the majority of these from northern and southern Kivu or the province of Katanga. Another 637 thousand people became internally displaced, leaving for more peaceful provinces of the country. One of the largest contingents of the UN can be found in the Congo, numbering more than 22 thousand soldiers and police.’

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Alen and Clair met five years ago in the town of Kalemie located in the northern province of Katanga. It was there that Alen, who had finished studying to become at economist, was able to find work. He worked for the municipality doing HR and youth work. Two months after his arrival Alen met his future wife and after half a year they had already had a traditional wedding. In the same year their first son Alfred was born.

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In order to receive a government job Alen was a member of the INADEF party. Back then it was one of the parties that supported President Joseph Kabila but in 2015 the balance of power changed completely.

You are the enemy

The fact is that the president of the DRC, Joseph Kabila, was effectively in power since 2001. However, he was first elected only in 2006, after the country adopted a new constitution. The previous version had set threshold of 30 for presidential candidates, now with the threshold lowered to 25 Kabila could officially run for election. Since then 10 years have passed. In 2016 the next presidential elections should take place. Already in 2015, Joseph Kabila openly stated his intention, contrary to the constitution, to run for a third time. This caused outrage among long-time opponents of the President and his supporters – including INDEF party of which Alen was a member.

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Open revolt was immediately followed by repression – so called ‘traitors’ in the party started to be fired and discredited. After some weeks pressure turned to violence. Government strongmen captured and tortured real and imagined opponents to Kabila. Of course it was not an open order from the President – they would arrive at homes unmarked, often at night.

‘It was a call – leave the office, now you are the enemy – remembers Alen. Then the threats and beatings started. You’d call into a neighbour’s quarters and hear the news of who has been kidnapped today. And then on returning home you meet a friend with a beaten face, and he explains – kidnapped, beaten. Today your neighbour is alive – tomorrow he is dead.’

They kidnapped Alen the first time in September 2014, at night on the way home. His family didn’t know where he was or what had happened.

‘I returned the next morning thoroughly beaten. They are asking me where did you come from? But I’ve come from death’

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Alen went to court with a complaint, but it was a complaint against an unknown person. The head of his party wrote an article for a newspaper in which he denounced the crimes of the Government and spoke of the kidnapping of Alen, but nothing came of it. In November armed men came again for Alen, this time at home.

‘They took everything from us, arriving in a car. They stole everything they could get their hands on. They drove us to the forest – I don’t know where it was, but I know that there were other people there, many other people. It was like a warzone – everything in blood, someone dying, someone dead, you are looking around in the dark and you can’t work out if these people are simply sleeping or are already dead. They started to beat me. They beat us and beat us and said – you turn people against the President, so you will walk on foot to heaven and today you will see God. With a knife to the throat. Clair was taken to another place and raped. My sister was with us and the same happened to her. When she resisted, they tortured her with hot knives. Children were hanging around. They gave the children a knife and said – over there is your father. Do it. And to us – either we kill them, or we will make bandits out of them.

The family spent three days in captivity. Their lives were saved by the actions of someone else. Bombs had started to fall on the place they were being tortured. Alen and Clair found their children and fled with them deeper and deeper into the forest. Their sister who was tortured with them was not successful in escaping.

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‘We went to woods with all our wounds from the last of our strength. I didn’t know what had happened to my sister. We arrived at a village where there was a monastery. We hid there with a Catholic priest. They saved our lives – first by sheltering and healing us. Then they helped us take documents from home and to leave the country. All was done for free. After all, we had no money – it had all been stolen. I knew that in this country they would kill me for sure.’

Beds with cockroaches

On 12 January 2016 Alen and Clair stepped off the plane in one of Moscow’s airports. ‘At first there was the feeling  – we are safe. Because I was with my family, everything was ok – after all we could have been killed on the way. But it was only the start of our struggle.’

When Alen and Clair arrived, they were met by acquaintances, who were supposed to help them by providing housing and taking them to the migration service. ‘But straight away everything didn’t happen as planned. I began to ask if he could take us to the migration service and he said no. He said I don’t know of any migration service. Then who does know? He took me to a two-bedroom apartment, where 15 people were already living, and said you will be here with the children. I thought to myself so this is Europe? Where will I sleep?’ The family couldn’t even go out onto the street – it was winter and they didn’t have any warm clothes.

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They didn’t manage to stay long in that apartment. Alen says that their big problem was the children. No one wanted to live with them. ‘Other people started to say – your children are crying, they are tired, we will call the police and kick you out. But where could we go? It was cold.’ A few weeks later they were evicted. After that there was another such apartment with 10 people in Novogireyevo and then another couple of months were spent in Khimki.

‘This is what I want to say: I fled from the threat of an immediate death but moving here – it is slow death. This situation is following us. When I found this place in Khimki, they said to me – stay, but you must pay 10, 000 for one bed. There were 20 people living in a three-room apartment and in our room were ten, and we with children. We sleep across the bed, with feet resting on chairs. Sleep is impossible: there are just too many cockroaches and bugs – you are looking at the children, scared they will crawl into their ears – you wake up and they are all around you. It is hell.

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I also didn’t find work. The children need to eat and I need to eat and in order to get to Citizen’s Advice Committee or the FMS it is necessary to pay to transport. We don’t have anything to pay with.’

‘It’s funny’ says Clair suddenly. It is her second remark in our conversation. The first being ‘I was raped’ when Alen was speaking about torture. For the rest of the time she sat in silence with a sad, detached look. ‘Do you know why I’m laughing now? – Because in Africa I lived better. Yes there were bandits and yes they harassed us. We can’t return there, it is dangerous – they can kill us. But here it is so hard and it is not clear what to do. All we need – a place where we can sleep. Even if there is already a place to sleep – it is already quiet. This, of course, wouldn’t be bad – it is possible to find food, but a place to sleep – this is always difficult.’

Although winter, one of the neighbours took the family to Civic Assistance Committee. We saw all four of them, gave some limited material assistance, and then helped make an application to receive refugee status in Russia. By 25 January Alen and Clair made a statement at the migration service and in May they had an interview. This means that that they will soon have the possibility to qualify for a place at the temporary accommodation centre for refugees. But whilst they are not there, they have nothing to feed the children, no money for travel and essentials and rent for the apartment has reached more than 20, 000 roubles.

As a result we are starting a collection for this family.

You can send them to our account. Please make clear in the payment ‘help for Alen and Clair’ to make sure we use your money to support this family. Below you will find the bank details for currency transfers:

For foreign currency transfers in US dollars:

Name of Organization: CIVIC ASSISTANCE Committee for refugees and forced migrants
Bank Name: SBERBANK
Bank Address: 127006, Moscow, Russia, Dolgorukovskaya 2
SWIFT: SABRRUMM
Account Number/IBAN: 40703840538320200413
Payment reference: Donation

For foreign currency transfers in euro:

Name of Organization: CIVIC ASSISTANCE Committee for refugees and forced migrants
Bank Name: SBERBANK
Bank Address: 127006, Moscow, Russia, Dolgorukovskaya 2.
SWIFT: SABRRUMM
Account Number/IBAN: 40703978738050200413
Payment reference: Donation

By Elena Srapyan – Civic Assistance Committee      

Photo  by Alexander Fyodorov

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