Iragi on his campus at Daystar University where he studies International Relations and Security Studies through a scholarship from the Jesuit Refugee Service (Angela Wells/Jesuit Refugee Service)

When my family fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Kenya in late 1990’s, we could have gone to a camp. My father had a degree in business management and my mother was a nurse in Congo. They wanted to be self-sufficient, so my father insisted on remaining in Nairobi. We were hosted by a Kenyan family for three years until we finally received our refugee mandates.

My father started a non-governmental organisation that ran a children’s school and hosted forums to spread information to and advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. This got him in trouble, and he was forcefully deported from Kenya twice.  He is now living in hiding in Nairobi; our family is constantly in fear of deportation.

I feel like I am Kenyan, I blend in well here, but I often wonder how safe I really am. There’s a feeling of security – not just physical but psychological – that everyone should be able to feel.
University is my sanctuary. I thank God I’m here where I’m safe to live, learn and spread my ideas. I’m studying International Relations and Security Studies, because I want to extend to others the right of freedom from fear. My family has been deprived of this human security, so I understand. I know how it feels to sleep hungry and to watch my back with every move.  

Through this experience I’ve learned that people don’t only need physical security, but also participation, recognition and human dignity. This is what refugees really lack. In Kenya we aren’t accepted, and we face xenophobia. We can’t move or live freely.

After I graduate I will work in human rights to advocate for my community. I’ll write academic research papers in this field and become an expert. Then I want to use this knowledge with  humanitarian organisations.

Right now, I’ve begun this process by volunteering in my community.  I am on student committees, and I mentor kids at boarding schools and children’s homes . I am the partnership director for an organisation providing life skills, HIV/AIDs prevention, and job training for professions like housekeeping or accounting to anyone in the community.  We want to reverse the idea that without formal education you can’t give back and make a difference.

I also helped to start a primary school near my university. My friends and I found funding to construct the school and pay teacher salaries. The school is now a recognised public school by the Kenyan government.

I am a refugee, but I am also human who wants to improve our world. This should not disqualify me from access to basic human rights.

Dear Pope Francis,

As refugees, our rights do not really exist. We are given the means to survive, but not to fully live or participate in society. We run from home to find safety, but then we are sent to camps where there is food but where we continue to suffer. We want to do more, to be more.  

Our psychological and physical security is constantly threatened which causes more suffering and conflict. Each individual has a different perception of what security means to them, but we all want acceptance. Let us not be limited in Kenya. Let us explore our creative and professional abilities; be our voice and speak for the protection of human rights as we address the dilemma of human security.

Yes we need to be safe, but we don’t want to be seen as vulnerable. This makes us feel less than human.  Please explore other options so we can integrate and lessen our suffering. Please ensure education is key, and help us access scholarships. Just because we are refugees doesn’t mean we cannot be engineers or doctors. Please prioritise education and integration in the refugee response.

In solidarity,

Iragi, 25, Congolese, security expert, community leader, refugee

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