Angola: Conversations with Urban Refugees in Luanda
17 December 2015

Mohammed Diawara, giving JRS Southern Africa Regional Communications Officer, a ride on his motorbike. Mohammed is a refugee from Côte d’Ivoire and is a Law lecturer at the Universidade (University) Agostinho Neto. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
A lack of hospitality and the prevalent behaviour of treating refugees and asylum seekers as “the other” is harmful not only to the victims concerned but to the host nation as well.

Luanda, 17 December 2015 – Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), in its approach to the work we do with refugees and asylum seekers, takes the time to listen and we always strive to understand the circumstances and the needs of those we accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of. We offer a listening ear and a safe haven that allows displaced people an opportunity to share with us the challenges they escaped and the challenges they still have to deal with, in an effort to craft a way forward.

Anastacia Lucilia is a Rwandese national who came to Angola in 1997. War seems to have followed her all her life and she and her family were forced to be transient for many years. Her father was killed in Rwanda and her pregnant mother and the rest of the remaining family escaped into Burundi. She was born in Burundi, however, when Anastacia was aged five, war broke out in Burundi and Anastacia and her family had to move to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Conflict then erupted between DRC and Rwanda, and due to her heritage, she had to escape again. This time Anastacia escaped into Congo Brazzaville, here too, war erupted and her easiest escape was into Angola.

All these years of moving from country to country, escaping war, persecution and death, left Anastacia much pain. She lost her mother in DRC, who had been fatally shot. During her time on the road she worked as a domestic worker, as a farm labourer, needed assistance from churches and other faith based organisations (FBOs) to survive.

Anastacia’s life, defined by being forced to perpetually escape conflict, has left her with a third grade education, and has left her with very few employment prospects and poverty stricken as a result. JRS has had to assist her with food, clothing and other basic needs. She now lives in Angola with her husband, who himself is a refugee from DRC, and her two children.

Mohammed Diawara is a Law lecturer at the Universidade (University) Agostinho Neto. He has refugee status in Angola where he arrived in 2006. Upon arrival, Mohammed was taken in by a lady from his home country, Côte d’Ivoire, who had given him old t-shirts that had become dirty whilst in storage for sale in retailers. He took these t-shirts, washed them and resold them and so started a humble business he ran for a year.

Through sheer determination, hard work and sacrifice, Mohammed managed to obtain a Masters in Law, at Universidade Lusiada de Angola, associated with a University in Portugal. He faced serious xenophobic discrimination, which is still an issue for Mohammed to this day. JRS assisted him with immigration processes and he also received assistance from the Head of the Refugee Department in Angola. “Many people assisted, I am indebted to them all.” says Mohammed.

During his studies he could only afford to live in the slums of Luanda, Campo de Felix. Mohammed’s journey to Angola started when his father was killed in Côte d’Ivoire. He managed to make it into neighbouring Togo, where his aunt sent him to Johannesburg, South Africa. He could not study in South Africa, but eventually, after transiting through Botswana and Namibia, ended up in Angola. His mother left for Mali when he reached Angola, however fours after his arrival in Angola he had lost both his mother and younger brother. What saddens Mohammed too this day, is the fact that he could not lay his family members to rest.

Mohammed’s life in Angola has been littered with difficulty despite his intelligence and penchant for hard work. On this issue Mohammed has the following to say: “There is no respect for the documentation of asylum seekers in particular. Despite everything that I have achieved and done, I am still discriminated against, particularly by my colleagues and fellow lecturers.”

He therefore sees no long term future for himself in Angola and is looking to move in the future. Mohammed’s story illustrates how a lack of hospitality and the prevalent behaviour of treating refugees and asylum seekers as “the other” is harmful not only to  the victims concerned but to the host nation as well. Mohammed has received his education in Angola, and should be ploughing his expertise and skills back into the economy and nation that welcomed him when he had to escape others. He is a valuable asset, but xenophobia has left him feeling as if he has no home.

It’s his, Anastacia and other stories like theirs that allow JRS to not only showcase why we have displaced people, but what it is those people can do for society if we allow them to. 

Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
+27 11 618 3404