How UNHCR Changed My Life

June 25, 2012
By Richard Sanguila

In 2003 after my dad passed away (killed in a mission; he was a soldier), one night the rebels attacked our house they arrested my mom, beat her and took her in jail where we couldn't see her; we even thought they killed her because they knew that my dad was a soldier in the army of Laurent Desire Kabila, the former president. We couldn't find her. Then we moved to our uncle’s house, and some days they told us that if the military finds us they will kill us because my dad was serving in Kabila’s army.

We spent 2 years without any news from mom; we didn’t even know if she was still alive, thank God one day my uncle heard that my mom was in Cameroon looking for us, but we didn’t know where to go so we could be saved. We decided to join her because we had nothing left in Congo, our house has been destroyed and everything. We took a boat from Kinshasa, the capital city of the Congo (DRC), to Congo Brazzaville which is a small country next to my country. It was at night; we reached the shore of Brazzaville the next day. We spent the night in some woman’s house that we met when we reached there. The next day we took the bus from Congo Brazzaville to Gabon which is a small country next to Cameroon the country where my mom was.

We traveled for two days, and then we arrived in Cameroon during the night. We asked the bus driver if he could allow us to spend the night in her house he accepted. Then we slept the next day we asked him if he knows where The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is located, he told us that it was still far from the city we were in, then he told us that we should take another bus to get to that city. Then we took the bus to Yaounde, which is the capital city of Cameroon. We arrived in Yaounde in the afternoon, and then we went to the UNHCR office the next day in the morning. We went to the office and asked the staff if my mom was registered there; they said yes and they gave us her phone number, and we also told them that we were refugees looking for protection. The UNHCR asked us to call our mom we called her and it was a big joy (it was in 2006). She came to the office and we had an interview with the UNHCR; there were no refugee camps, so we stayed in the city neighborhood where my mom lived in a small room that we shared until we came to the U.S.A. After one month in Cameroon with our mom, the UNHCR called us for a second interview, and then they gave us money so we can start school in Cameroon. My sister and I were still in high school. They also gave us things like soaps each month, money to sell merchandise, and some clothes. They also visited us to check if we were okay, they provided us free care so we could see the doctor and get medications, and they gave us identification that we use while we were in Cameroon.

Our third interview with UNHCR was about sending us to Australia because the UNHCR told us that their mission was to protect us and send us to a country where we can live peacefully and start our new life. Australian UNHCR officers came, we had the interview but they denied us because one of my sisters was pregnant; this was a terrible news for us. But they consoled us and told us that we should wait until the U.S comes…we waited for 2 years, and then in 2008 the U.S. officers came -- we passed the interview and they gave us the Visa for the U.S. We were extremely happy the UNHCR made our trip; they purchased airline tickets, bus, and I94 for us. They announced the day we should leave and time etc. That day we all went to the UNHCR office then headed to the airport with their buses. It was the most beautiful day of my life that I can never forget. At the airport, they did everything for us and gave us a staff that led us to Paris, France. We took another flight to New York, and then a last one to Louisville, KY. We arrived in Louisville on the 24 Sept, 2008 at night. Our apartment was set, and food was in the refrigerator. We had beds, clothes, soaps, a table, spoons, mattresses, a television, etc. There was someone that took us from the airport to our apartment. He worked for the Catholic Charity but he didn't speak our language, which is French. He spoke English that we couldn’t understand, but he was very patient and welcomed us. Here in Louisville, the agency that took care of us was Catholic Charity, which is linked with the UNHCR; they work together. They applied for social security, green card etc. for us, and they put me in school, found jobs for my mom and my siblings. They still follow up with us to this day because we haven't receive our citizenship. My love for the UN is extremely big. They saved me; they protected me, and they changed my life -- with also God grace, I am grateful to the UNHCR and also the UN as well because it is one of their agencies. I also decided to work at the UN in the future. This is my story with the UNHCR. If you have questions feel free to ask have a great day all.

Richard Sanguila is a member of the UNA-USA Louisville Chapter.

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