After seven long years of separation, our much loved sister Peace Musabi who wrote for Cif earlier this year has won the right to be reunited with her three children. We shed tears of joy and relief as the news spread. At the end it looked easy: the immigration and asylum tribunal overturned the Home Office's cruel refusal to allow the children to join their mother. But behind that decision were years of scrupulous legal and campaigning work. We must now ensure that other families don't have to go through the same struggle just to be together.
I left my own three children in Rwanda after soldiers came to our house, killed my husband and raped me. I knew they would be safer without me, so I fled alone. I won asylum in the UK but, like Peace, I was denied the right to automatic family reunion. Eight years have gone by and my children, now 15, 17, and 20, have had to grow up without their mother's love and protection. We want desperately to end this separation.
I helped start the Mothers' Campaign (MoCa) to demand family reunion for everyone who has the right to stay in the UK. Thousands particularly mothers have rallied to our cause. But some have shown ignorance and callousness. They say we should "go back to Africa". Africa is a continent, not a country. Peace was tortured in Burundi and she risks being killed if she returns. I face similar dangers. Are our lives of no value?
Mothers and children are the first victims of policies that have brought murder and torture to much of the continent. Imperial governments and corporations carved up Africa, stealing its most precious resource, its people. An estimated 20 million were forced to make the Middle Passage journey. Britain grew wealthy off mercilessly exploiting Africans and their descendants on plantations in the Americas.
After the end of slavery, and later when African countries won independence, the former colonial powers with the US maintained control of the African continent's mineral and other resources. Leaders were offered bribes; those who refused to be corrupted, such as Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara, were often murdered. Since 1998, more than 6 million people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in wars fuelled by an insatiable demand for ivory, rubber, gold, diamonds, cassiterite and other precious minerals. Rape by soldiers and militiamen is rampant while UN troops stand by. Western plunder, which has destroyed so much of our societies and our peace, more than entitles us to be here. We should get shares in the City!
As news of Peace's victory spread, MoCa, working with Single Mothers' Self Defence, heard other stories of separation, this time within the UK. Two survivors of domestic violence, one from Southampton, one from Uganda, had their children taken away by social workers, who claimed that the violence they suffered made them unfit mothers. Another is prevented from seeing her children because she can't afford to pay for supervised visits. A baby was put up for adoption when his mother was made destitute. Three women were detained in Yarl's Wood removal centre for months and their children taken into care. A 40-day hunger strike won their freedom; now they struggle to get their children back.
What trauma, hardship or worse do children endure without their mothers' love and protection? What is the impact of years of forced separation? As mothers we know that separation causes untold grief and suffering to them and therefore to us. For all our sakes, and for the justice we're owed, we are determined to put an end to it.