I am excited to be joining RI as the new advocate for DRC and the Sudans. With the presidential election now approaching, and renewed Congressional interest in the conflicts of Sub-Saharan Africa, it is an exhilarating time to be joining the organization.
Prior to arriving in Washington, D.C., I had been based in Nairobi working in refugee resettlement. Over the course of the past year, I met with hundreds of refugee families across Sub-Saharan Africa who described how war and violence had caused them to flee their homes and make treacherous journeys to neighboring countries in search of safety. But even having reached a “safe place,” many of these families continued to experience persecution, either from cross-border attacks or discrimination by local communities.
Through these conversations I came to develop a new understanding of the human toll of these conflicts. Not only had these people endured unimaginable hardship, but they also lived with the uncertainty of not knowing whether they could ever return home. In addition, I gained a deeper appreciation of the challenges involved in addressing such complex emergencies, where political vacuums, displacement crises, and factionalized violence overlap and intersect.
The hardships I witnessed strengthened my conviction that we must do much more to keep these people safe.
One of the most striking examples of the international community’s protection failures that I experienced was in Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda, where I met about 40 families who had fled Congo in 1996. Each of these families sat with me and told me how they had escaped their villages by trekking through the bush, struggling to reach a camp where they had been told they would receive protection. But shortly after the camp was opened, it was attacked by Hutu rebels; a few months later, it was attacked again even more viciously.
As the families told me about the loved ones they lost during these attacks – and about the subsequent 15 years they spent as refugees – there was no hint of hostility in their voices Instead, there was only overwhelming sadness, and a hope that things might someday change. RI is committed to making that change happen.
Over the coming months, I will be focusing on strengthening RI’s work on the DRC, Sudan, and South Sudan. All three of these countries have experienced protracted conflict and humanitarian crises, and all have witnessed some of the most egregious crimes against humanity in recent history. RI will continue its efforts to lessen the impact of violence on vulnerable groups in this region, identify gaps in humanitarian response, and ensure that the right to nationality is respected.
There is clearly a lot of work to be done, and I am excited to get started. As I do, I hope you will keep returning to RI’s blog, follow our reports and advocacy work, and learn more about the progress we are making.