'I barely recognise the woman I once was' - Refugee Council
June 8, 2014

‘I barely recognise the woman I once was’

Marie is an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A survivor of sexual violence, she thought she would be safe when she reached the UK. She was wrong. This is her story.

I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a place infamously known as the rape capital of the world.

What happened to me in the DRC is hard for me to talk about. Members of my family were murdered. I was detained, raped and tortured multiple times, even after I fled to the Ivory Coast.

I was lucky to escape Africa with my life. I thought I’d be safe in the UK but I wasn’t.

When I first went to the Home Office, they turned me away because I didn’t have an appointment. I spent the night in a phone box outside the asylum screening unit, with the cold winter’s air irritating my still fresh torture wounds.

The first person I met from the Home Office shouted at me and told me I’d be sent back to my own country. I was terrified; I didn’t have anyone or anywhere to go. There have been times I have had to sleep on the street and beg for money; relying on the kindness of strangers for help.

When I had my main asylum interview, it was done by a male official and male interpreter; two strangers I’d just met. I didn’t feel comfortable telling them about the things that had happened to me. If I’d had a woman it would have been different; I could’ve even shown her my scars.

When I do tell people what happened to me, it’s like they don’t believe me. But you don’t make up scars like mine.

My case was initially refused, but the day before my appeal was due to be heard, the Home Office withdrew their decision to refuse asylum. It’s been over two years since I originally claimed asylum and I’m still waiting to find out what’s going to happen.

Not knowing what’s going to happen is the hardest thing; I have trouble sleeping and I’m on anti depressants. I’m not able to work and I struggle to get by on asylum support. At one point, it all got to be too much and I tried to commit suicide. Now I’m getting specialist help.

The Government just doesn’t seem to care. I hope other women don’t have to go through what I’ve been through.

I arrived in the UK desperate, penniless, and with nowhere to go. I didn’t know what to do. I’ve experienced some truly terrible things in my life, but I have never felt quite so scared, isolated and vulnerable.

I can barely recognise the woman I once was.

The Refugee Council is calling on the Government to make sure women like Marie are protected in the UK asylum system. Read more here.