Barika’s Story

The following account was written as told to Asylum Access Thailand by Barika, a young woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She fled her home following relentless persecution due to her involvement in a women’s rights association that reported on the innumerable acts of sexual and gender-based violence experienced by Congolese women and girls. The perpetrators of these acts, members of the Congolese military, began to persecute Barika and her colleagues for denouncing their activities. Barika was taken by force and sexually assaulted on two occasions. Upon receiving a death threat, she fled to Thailand where she lived in fear of detention and deportation. Eventually, with Asylum Access’s help, Barika was able to obtain refugee status.

While studying rural development as a university student in DRC, I was required to take short internships on the ground. During these periods, my peers and I began to notice the problems that women were facing, such as rape and abuse. We were appalled by the accounts of the women and girls that had suffered these acts of violence. In response, we decided to create an association to fight for and defend the rights and the development of Congolese women.

The objective of our association was to denounce the acts of violence against Congolese women and to educate and empower them about their rights, because “educating a woman is educating the whole nation” as they say. We wanted to fight for the respect, the dignity and the physical and moral integrity of Congolese women, in order for them to be able to play their part in the development of their being and of their nation.

I was first abducted in 2010. Late into the night, a group of soldiers arrived at my home. They broke into my house, tied my hands behind my back, and forced me to go with them. They took me to a small room which I had never seen. This room had no window, no ventilation. It was so small that I could not even lie down, and there was no furniture. I stayed there the entire night, and the next day. No one came to see me, and no one brought me food.

In the afternoon of the second day, three military men came into my room, a commander and two soldiers. The commander told me: “If you don’t obey everything I will tell you, I will make sure that you die”. He told me that he had been severely reproached by the authorities about what his soldiers did to women. He told me that he had risked losing his post because of me. Indeed, the commander and his soldiers mistreated the population, and our association had handed in a report about him to the Committee Against Sexual Violence, CTLVS (Comité Provincial de Lutte Contre les Violences Sexuelles).

I got angry and began to tell him that women were not created to suffer such things, but he didn’t let me finish and slapped me. I fell on the ground, my nose and my mouth were bleeding. They started to torture me. They forced me to eat dirty things, they pushed their weapons in my vagina. The handcuffs injured my wrists because I was moving and I still have the scars. They locked me inside the room and they left.

That evening, two other soldiers came to my room and told me that if I told anyone what they had done to me, or if I kept working, they would kill me. Then, they made me leave and told me to go back.

As I left, I was very afraid. I did not want to go back to my home and instead went to my colleague’s house. He told me that he and other members of the association were looking for me and that they had already informed the CTLVS. He called one of the members of the CTLVS to tell him that I had been returned but that I had been abducted, tortured and threatened to death.

Since we were both afraid of staying at our homes, we went to the house of a pastor, also a sympathizing member of our association, to take refuge. He gave us some food and we spent the night there. We decided that we could not stop working because of these attacks, because the female victims needed our help, and we resumed our work.

However, we were not safe. The commander who had sent his soldiers to abduct me regularly came to our office to insult us. He would throw our documents to the ground and tear our posters from the walls. When he saw us in the street, he would insult us again and even tried to physically assault us. Fortunately, other people would intervene and defend us. We did not dare to go out alone anymore and when we did, we always went in pairs. The President of our association was also regularly called up by the commander, who then reproached, insulted, and mistreated him.
Later that month, armed forced attacked nearby. They raped the women and girls, pillaged and sacked everything.

A member of our association called me at 3 am to tell me what had just happened. As it was during the night, I could not go to the area that had been attacked. I was too afraid and would have had to walk three hours to arrive there. Instead, I met up with my colleague early that morning. I collected information on what had happened there, and drew up a report denouncing the acts of violence which had been committed.

A few days later, the President of our association left to take my report to the CTLVS. While he was away, I received a first summons from the commander. Since it was not addressed to one person but to the members of the association, I did not attend. Later that day, I received a second summons addressed to me personally, and then a third one. I was alone in the office and did not want to attend. I was terrified and waited for the President to come back. However, he did not come back. I tried to call his number but it was no longer working. I tried reaching our association’s coordinator, but I could not reach her either. Finally, I called another colleague, the last person I could call. Indeed, the two other founding members of our association, had already disappeared. We never found out if they had decided to leave due to unsafe conditions or if they had been abducted, but they had disappeared and we could no longer reach them on their phones.

When I contacted my colleague, she told me that two other members of our association had been abducted. She too was very afraid. Due to the insecurity, I left the office early to go home.

That night, a group of six soldiers broke into my home and entered my bedroom. They taped my mouth shut, tied me to my bed and told me that, as I had accused them of raping and attacking women and girls in my report, they were going to rape me too. They raped me one after another. I fainted.

When I came to, I called my colleague and told her everything that had happened. She told me that she too had been attacked. I do not know what exactly happened to her, she did not tell me and I did not ask her.

The next day, we left together. My colleague came to my place to fetch me, because I did not feel strong enough to take a taxi alone. I went to my parents’ house and she went back to her home. When two men tried to kill me a few days later, I immediately fled to Burundi.

When I arrived in Burundi, I tried to call one human rights organization to ask for help. Nobody answered and I decided to contact another human rights organization. A few months earlier, I had participated in an international meeting for NGOs where had I met a representative of the organization who gave me the phone number of this office.

When I called the organization, the person who answered told me that my safety wouldn’t be guaranteed in Burundi and advised me to leave the area. I was put in contact with a Congolese man living in Burundi who helped me to obtain a passport. The organization then suggested I go to Thailand. Having no other choice, I agreed. A Congolese woman would help me to obtain my visa and leave, but this woman lived in Congo and I had to go back to meet her.

When I arrived in my parents’ house, my father told me that the soldiers were looking for me and had just left. I immediately left to meet the Congolese woman at a hotel as she prepared for our departure. We flew to Bangkok and I was entrusted to a Senegalese family.

Since arriving in Bangkok, there are two major problems that I face: the insecurity and paying my rent. Indeed, I have very little financial support which puts me in a difficult situation. The worst problem is the insecurity and being considered illegal here. Without papers or the right to stay in Thailand, I can be arrested or detained at any time. We refugees wander the streets and never know what might happen to us.

I heard about Asylum Access through people in my community that told me that Asylum Access would help me. I thank Asylum Access very much for all the help they provided. I know that they pushed very hard for my case, and that they followed up repeatedly to make sure my case was not forgotten. They provided me with support throughout the process, and I am convinced that they contributed greatly to my acceptance as a refugee. Now that I am accepted, I’m calmer. I was having problems sleeping and concentrating because of the stress, I did not know what to do with myself, but now I am confident that this will improve.

By Asylum Access Thailand VLA Louise Collewet

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