Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

New Zealand refugees tell stories of hell about Congo

Congolese community hopes to raise awareness and action over violence in homeland.

They killed her husband and she was separated from her children for two years after she was forced to flee her village in the Congo.

Now Lema Shamamba, 40, who came to New Zealand as a refugee in 2009, is crying out for people in New Zealand to help stop the slavery and genocide back in her birth country.

"Women are raped, children are kidnapped and men are killed. Surely New Zealand and the rest of the world has to care," Shamamba said.

Some reports estimate 48 women are raped every hour in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it is more risky to be female than a soldier.

In the land of 67 million people, nearly nine in 10 live on less than $2 a day.

Shamamba said most of the country's trouble and violence were linked to the battle for its vast natural resources.

It is rich in minerals such as cobalt, copper and gold, many of which are used in mobile phones and other electronics.

Shamamba, a mother of three, said rape was used as a weapon of war to destroy women, their families and their communities.

"When a woman is raped, the whole family is destroyed because they are chased out of the home and husbands run away because of shame," she said. "This is how communities are broken and torn apart, and how others take control of valuable land."

There were 198 Congolese-born people in New Zealand at the last Census and most arrived as refugees.

Members from the community will give first-hand accounts of their experiences tomorrow afternoon at the Ranui Community Centre.

Shamamba said she was targeted because she belonged to a group that was vocal against the ruling dictatorship.

She recalled the painful decision to run with little more than her youngest son and the clothes on her back.

"My two elder children were at school and I knew if I went to get them, I could be dead," she said. "So I just left. I took my youngest son, ran and prayed for a miracle that one day they would find me."

Daughter Amani Irenge, 21, was just 9 when she returned to a destroyed home that day, her mother missing.

"My head went blank and I didn't know what to think or what to do," said Irenge, now a nursing student at Unitec.

"I remember wanting so much to be with my mother but I didn't know whether she was dead or alive."

Together with her then 12-year-old brother, they sought refuge with an uncle but were instead verbally and physically abused.

However, the miracle her mother had prayed for came when a Catholic priest helped the siblings cross to Uganda.

They were reunited with their mother two years after her escape, and all four are now living in New Zealand.

Charmaine Pountney, of Women of Hope: Helping Ourselves, said the community was seeking for the New Zealand Government to publicly condemn the violence and human rights violations in Congo.

It also wants businesses here to buy only equipment made with minerals that has been certified as being from conflict-free zones.

- NZ Herald

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