Odessele Ngueyitala from Congo-Brazzaville has been staying in Ukraine for more than two years, where he had been waiting for a refugee status. However, his refugee application was rejected by the Ukrainian Migration Service and his lawsuit was dismissed in a County Administrative Court due to the incompetence of the local lawyers. Believing that his situation could be reversed, Odessele sought legal help from International Non-Governmental Organization “Legal Support of Foreigners in Ukraine”.
On August 28, 2012, lawyers of Legal Support of Foreigners in Ukraine successfully represented Odessele before the Administrative Court of Appeal and the decision of the court of first instance was overturned.
Odessele kindly agreed to share his story.
Q: Odessele, tell us about experiences that happened in your life and forced you to leave Congo.
A: The only problem in Congo is human beings. Wars will not end and conflicts will not cease until human beings can eradicate their greed and brutality. The current regime in Congo will never let this happen. I cannot imagine what could possibly change the situation in Congo at the moment.
I was a lawyer in Congo-Brazzaville, took part in law conferences, served for the Red Cross and was an active member of the political party UPADS (Union Panafricaine pour la Démocratie Sociale). Its leader – the first fairly elected president of Congo – Pascal Lissouba was ousted in 1997 as a result of a military conflict. Once his successor, Denis Sassou Nguesso, took office, followers of the UPADS became victims of systematic persecution and manhunts. Our opponents were killing our fellow party members, blowing up houses, raping women and children. The regime full of repressions, hardships, and armed conflicts made me fully understand the depth of fear and grief; my father was wounded and soon killed. I also lost my uncle and two brothers; and my mother’s health was seriously undermined. In 2009 fearing for my life and knowing that I could end up as my fellow party members, I decided to escape from the country.
Q: How did you manage to escape during a time when the members of your party were being persecuted and the borders of Congo were under severe control?
A: My best friend – police officer Teddy Ilonga rescued me. Risking his own life, he helped me flee to South Africa. Even when I got there I knew that it was still dangerous for me to stay in Africa. When the consul of Congo in South Africa found out about my whereabouts he tried to have me arrested and deported back to Congo. One of the members of the UPADS helped me. He gave me shelter and later he helped me escape from the country.
Q: Where did you decide to go?
A: At the airport of Johannesburg I knew that my destination should be Odessa, Ukraine. I heard about this country from my mother, she used to live and study there during the Soviet Union. Therefore, upon my arrival in Kyiv I took a plane straight to Odessa. I believed that my name – Odessele – given to me by my mother in honor of this beautiful city has shaped my future.
Q: What do you think about Odessa? Tell us about your first impression.
A: It conquered at the very first sight. Odessa is a very comfortable city for foreigners. However, it did not go the way that I expected it to. I had to spend three months at the refugee camp on the outskirts of the town – it was the most difficult period of my life in Odessa. But I managed to meet there a real friend at the camp. His family has provided me with food and shelter up until now. At the beginning he was giving me Russian classes, now that I know the basics I learn the language on my own by reading books, watching TV, and speaking with friends.
Q: Apart from your friend’s support, what has helped you make ends meet in Ukraine?
A: Finding a job in Ukraine without permanent status and official papers is difficult. For some time, I worked at the market selling goods, then on a construction site. Such jobs have no prospective and could barely help me cover daily expenses; but, it is better than nothing. Refugees with no official status cannot find anything better.
Q: Do you still communicate with your relatives in Congo-Brazzaville?
A: I have talked to them only once since I arrived in Odessa two years ago. The war forced my mother to escape to Gabon, while my sister ended up alone in Brazzaville. Since our last communication I have completely lost track of them.
Q: Why did they deny your refugee status in the immigration service and your case was subsequently lost in court?
A: The denial of my refugee application by the Immigration Service of Ukraine was unlawful. I had no other choice but to challenge it in court. Together with my friends we retained a lawyer in Odessa who promised to help me with the case. It did not happen. As I found out later, my case was lost due to the incompetence of the lawyer. Although he charged me for his services, my lawyer never appeared in court.
Q: What is the current status of your immigration case?
A: Once I found out about International NGO “Legal Support of Foreigners in Ukraine” I decided to ask them for legal help. I told the lawyers of the NGO about my problem and they gave me their legal opinion. As a result of their hard work on August, 28, 2012 justice was finally done and the illegal decision of the court of first instance was overturned. All legal work including filing briefs, presenting new documents, and multiple representations in court was all done by the NGO’s lawyers absolutely free.
Q: Odessele, what do you do in life now and how do you picture your future?
A: I am a member of the Association of the French-speaking writers in France, where four of my books have been already published. Right now I am working on my fifth book about my life in Ukraine. At the same moment I am in negotiations with one publishing house in Kyiv in order to publish my book for Russian-speaking readers. Unfortunately, as the translation and publishing fees are quite high this cannot be done unless I find a sponsor.
I know that my life in Canada, USA or France would be easier, I would not have the same problems with the refugee status that I have in Ukraine, but I like living here and, therefore, I will fight for my future in Odessa. I even plan to start practicing law in Ukraine in order to help other refugees in Odessa with my knowledge and local experience.
Mr. Ngueyitala was interviewed by Kateryna Lapytska.