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World Refugee Day: My 18th Anniversary

Posted: 20/06/2012 14:23

Today marks World Refugee Day. Today is a reminder for us to think about the 15 millions of people who aren't as lucky as we are, those mothers, fathers and children who can't go back to the homes they were forced to flee and loved ones they had to leave behind.

Today marks the 18th anniversary since the status "refugee" was bestowed upon me, my family and millions of others, who crossed the borders into neighbouring countries following the devastating Rwandan genocide.

On the verge of entering teenage-hood, I fled my home country amid bullet shelling and bombs. From the moment I crossed over into Zaire, what is now DR Congo, life, as I knew it, changed. I became a statistic, a person "forced to flee their homes due to persecution, whether on an individual basis or as part of a mass exodus due to political, religious, military or other problems." I went from being a carefree pre-teen girl, troubled by the usual puberty boy problems, to lining up alongside tens of thousands of fellow refugees to get a pack of maize flour and a box of biscuits.

At 12 years old, my world went from skipping rope with friends to jumping corpses of the victims of the cholera epidemic that lined the streets of Goma.

Oftentimes on this day, I find myself looking back at the life I've had and how I got to where I am now.

As a young girl in Kenya, when faced with the fact that we couldn't go to school, a group of us formed a dance troupe and on June 20 1995, the then Kenyan Culture minister requested us to perform at the World Refugee Day celebrations. Under the blistering and scalding African sun, eight young refugee boys and girls entertained guests and spectators, happy for the chance to show our culture and traditional dance in a country that had yet to accept and recognise us as refugees.

We had no school and food was scarce, but blessed with the heart and mind of youth, we soldiered on and just dealt with the situation as it was. We may have been young and most likely, at times, seemed untroubled to the outside world, but we never forgot things could get worse. We always remembered where we were and those who had it worse than we did.

My luck turned when in 1997 I was given given a chance to a better life after the UN re-settled my family in Norway, on a cold December day. I say I've been lucky because it's only a few that get a shot at finding a secure home away from home.

But no matter how far my journey's taken me and the three amazing countries I call home, the sense of truly belonging has always seemed to elude me. I'm safe now and owner of dual nationalities, but no matter what I do or become, where I live and however the UN defines me, I still feel like I don't belong anywhere specific. The sense of "otherness" that comes with being a refugee has never left me, even after finding that sanctuary, that haven that I now call home.

As the world becomes more global, I would urge world leaders and citizens alike, as I did in my speech at the UN General Assembly in 2005, to commemorate this day and use it to shine a light on situations and conditions so many of our fellow humans are living through. Only then can we honour the 1951 Convention and start working to right the unjust circumstances.

 

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