GBV survivor looks forward to new beginning with resettlement
17 February 2022
“My parents were killed in front of me,” she says, sitting on the bed in the small room that has been her shelter for about a year
Yaounde, Cameroon – Irene* has waited a long time to start a new life. The horrors of her past are now fuelling her drive to succeed. On the eve of a fresh beginning in Australia, the 31-year-old Central African refugee narrates her heart-breaking story but finishes with the hope she is taking into her next steps.
“My parents were killed in front of me,” she says, sitting on the bed in the small room that has been her shelter for about a year. “The men who killed them also raped me. There were three of them.”
She speaks with stoic resolve, determined to finish her tale even though tears simmer in her eyes as she recalls the trauma.
“I lost consciousness during the assault,” she says. “When I woke up, I was in a neighbour’s house and no one knew where my brothers and sister were.” She has not seen or heard from them since.
Sometime after arriving in Yaounde, Irene tried unsuccessfully to support herself as a housemaid. Once, she had to leave because the men in the house expected sexual favours and the other time because she refused to do sex work for her employer.
She has not always been able to tell this story. It took several counselling sessions with UNHCR’s implementing partner Plan International, for her to even reveal the assault she survived.
“When survivors come to us, the first thing we do is listen,” says Patricia Wata, a social worker with Plan International, and Irene’s caseworker. “We then provide psychosocial support, home visits, and referrals to other service providers for additional support. We also try to help the survivor to find an activity that can allow them to be self-sufficient. That is what we did for Irene.”
Irene was in a difficult situation at the time.
“I was living in an abandoned building that got flooded every time it rained. I survived because of the generosity of a woman I knew from church.”
Wata identified her as a woman-at-risk and survivor of violence, which opened up the possibility of resettlement – a durable solution that involves the transfer of a refugee from the country of asylum where they currently reside to another country that has agreed to give them long-term or permanent residence.
However, resettlement spots are very few, necessitating prioritisation for refugees in the most precarious situations in the country of asylum, and lacking adequate protection. Also, the final decision to accept a refugee for resettlement ultimately rests with the resettlement country. Considering the slim chance of success, Irene did not keep her hopes up. Until she received the good news.
“I can’t fully express the joy I felt when I was told I was going to Australia,” she says. “I ask God to bless those who have let me into their country.”
Now, Irene is looking forward to her new life with enthusiasm.
“After all that happened to me, I thought my life was over,” says Irene. “But through this opportunity, I will become somebody.”
She also has a burning desire to help change the lives of refugees for the better.
“I must continue my education and I must find work and look back to help those who have suffered like me. I cannot stand by and watch refugees suffer, that is impossible. I must help them because I am one of them.”