• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Congolese orphan starts a new life in US after surviving beatings and gangrene

Telling the Human Story, 19 March 2014

© UNHCR/A.Tilahun
Medical staff say goodbye to Faustin as he leaves for the airport in Lilongwe and a new life in the United States.

LILONGWE, Malawi, March 19 (UNHCR) The news on the radio was very bad. A young refugee boy had been abandoned in front of a hospital in the Malawi capital, Lilongwe, bearing multiple scars and suffering from a gangrenous leg, which doctors had to amputate to save the child's life.

UNHCR staff members, who had listened to that disturbing report last July, soon visited Faustin in Nkhoma Hospital, where the confused youngster asked who would take him home and become his new mother. One thing was clear; he did not want to return to the home of his uncle, the guardian who brought him to Malawi from the Democratic Republic of the Congo after Faustin's parents were killed there in 2011.

Almost a year on, seven-year-old Faustin is a different child, in a different country. Although the animated young boy rarely shows signs of the trauma and loss he has suffered, the physical scars and his awkward gait are a constant reminder. But he now has something good in his life a new home in a safe environment, a decent education and the love of the new mother he called out for in hospital.

The United States agreed to resettle the boy under its Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Programme after his name was forwarded by UNHCR, following consultations with a wide range of partners, including Nkhoma Hospital, local partners and the Malawian government. He flew to his new home and family earlier this year.

The programme places orphans and unaccompanied refugee children with foster families across the United States, who provide love and support until the child legally becomes an adult. Faustin also gets access to the rights that US citizens enjoy, including the health care that will be necessary as he grows and needs adjustments to his prosthetic leg and treatment for any lingering health problems.

He should also be free from the fear that marked his life in the care of his jailed uncle, who admitted to UNHCR interviewers that he and his wife had abused the child. After they arrived in Malawi in 2011 from the volatile DRC province of North Kivu, the couple prevented Faustin from attending school, denied him food, made him perform hefty household chores and regularly beat him.

When Faustin attempted to run away, neighbours caught the youngster and returned him to his relatives who tied him up with metal wire and beat him. "My leg was on fire. The wire was so hot," Faustin told UNHCR about the gangrene in his leg. After this final abuse, his aunt left him outside the hospital and fled for Mozambique.

Until his departure, Faustin was kept in protective custody at Nkhoma Hospital, where the staff grew very fond of him and made every effort to make him feel as comfortable and safe as possible. The staff even hired a tutor to help Faustin study English in preparation for his move to the United States.

Meanwhile, 500 Miles, a Scottish charity working in Malawi, volunteered to fit the boy with a prosthetic leg, free of charge. While his first days were unsteady, Faustin improved significantly and by last November he was walking more confidently.

As the day of his departure grew closer, he became more and more excited. "In America, will there be toys?" he asked en route to the airport. Minutes earlier, the entire hospital team and several staff from the other agencies involved in his case lined up in front of the hospital to say goodbye to Faustin.

The medical director at Nkhoma Hospital, an American, told Faustin he would see him at his high school graduation as they hugged goodbye and the UNHCR team accompanied him to the airport, where he flew to his foster family and new life . . . and plenty of toys.

Malawi hosts some 17,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, mainly from Democratic Republic of the Congo and Eastern Africa.

*Name changed for protection reasons.

By Chris Murphy in Lilongwe, Malawi




The Continuity Of Risk

A three-city study of Congolese women-at-risk resettled in the U.S.

Stateless in American Samoa: Mikhail Sebastian's Story

Mikhail Sebastian is a stateless man who has been living in the United States for more than a decade-and-a-half. In this video, he tells of the hardships he has faced and the importance of providing legal protections to stateless persons in the U.S.

Operational Guidance

Operational Guidance for the prevention of micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Jean de Dieu, from the Central African Republic (CAR), was on his way to market in mid-January when he was shot. The 24-year-old shepherd and his family had fled their country two months earlier and sought refuge on an island in the Oubangui River belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes Jean crossed back to check on his livestock, but last week his luck ran out when he went to take an animal to market. A few hours later, in an improvised operating room in Dula, a Congolese border town on the banks of the Oubangui, medics fight to save his life.

Jean's situation is not unique. Over the past two years, war in the Central African Republic has driven more than 850,000 people from their homes. Many have been attacked as they fled, or killed if they tried to return. In neighbouring DRC, medical resources are being stretched to their limits.

Photographer Brian Sokol, on assignment for UNHCR, captured the moment when Jean and others were rushed into the operating theatre. His images bear witness to desperation, grief, family unity and, ultimately, a struggle for survival.

Congolese Medics on Call For Refugees

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

People in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Katanga province have long referred to the region between the towns of Manono, Mitwaba and Pweto as the "triangle of death." Despite the presence of UN peace-keepers and government military successes in other parts of the country, the situation in the resources-rich Katanga has been getting worse over the past two years. Conflict between a secessionist militia group and the government and between the Luba (Bantu) and Twa (Pygmy) ethnic groups has left thousands dead and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 people since 2012, including over 70,000 in the last three months. UNHCR has expressed its "deep concern" about the "catastrophic" humanitarian situation in northern Katanga. The violence includes widescale looting and burning of entire villages and human rights' violations such as murder, mass rape and other sexual violence, and the forced military recruitment of children.

The limited presence of humanitarian and development organizations is a serious problem, leading to insufficient assistance to displaced people who struggle to have access to basic services. There are 28 sites hosting the displaced in northern Katanga and many more displaced people live in host communities. While UNHCR has built some 1,500 emergency shelters since January, more is needed, including access to health care, potable water, food and education. The following striking photographs by Brian Sokol for UNHCR show some of the despair and suffering.

Human Misery in Katanga Province's Triangle of Death

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished BuildingPlay video

Lebanon: Refugees Brave Winter in Unfinished Building

More than half of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in precarious shelters such as unfinished buildings, garages and shops. Their already difficult conditions are made worse by the winter weather.
Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family 
Play video

Lebanon: US Dream keeps Hopes Alive for Syrian Family

When Syrian refugee Yaser, his wife Amani, and family heard media reports of anti-refugee sentiment among some quarters in the United States, they feared their 18-month wait to find refuge in the country that resettles more refugees than any other could go on indefinitely. But putting their hopes on a new life in the United States, away from the horrors of Syria's war is the refugee family's only way to escape the fear of the past and struggles of the present in Lebanon.
Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate
Play video

Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

The 2013 winner of UNHCR`s Nansen Refugee Award is Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of Democratic Republic of the Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). She has helped over 2000 displaced women and girls who have suffered the most awful kidnapping and abuse, to pick up the pieces of their lives and become re-accepted by their communities.