Is there racism in Scotland?
Great Britain: Black university rector fights against racism
Jean-Pierre Bodjoko and Gudrun Sailer - Vatican City
46 years old, educated in her native Congo, fled to Great Britain for political reasons, where the lawyer specializing in human rights had to start over from the bottom up as an interpreter for migrants before she was elected Rector of the prestigious University of Edinburgh in Scotland: That is Debora Kayembe's previous résumé in three lines. In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Congolese woman, divorced mother of two, shows a considerable degree of resilience, which gives an idea of the inner determination with which she denies her commitment to human rights and against racism.
. [Man is capable of many things, but what I saw in Bunia was unacceptable]
"I worked as a lawyer in Matadi (in western Congo) from 2000 until I came to the International Criminal Court in 2011," says Debora Kayembe, describing the beginnings of her professional career. In 2003 the war in Bunia in eastern Congo ended, and on behalf of then President John Kabila, the young lawyer became an advisor for civil society issues during the reconstruction. In this function, she managed to travel with a delegation to the devastated civil war area to investigate the massive human rights violations, especially against women. “Humans are capable of many things, but what I saw in Bunia was unacceptable,” recalls the lawyer. “I returned to Kinshasa with a written report, and I was threatened with death because of that report. So I left the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ended up in the UK. "
There it turned out that her studies and her bar license were of little value because she had taken them in French and in the Congo. You had to start over, said the lawyer. However: other migrants from Africa fared far worse in Great Britain, “they didn't know what to tell their stories”, as Debora Kayembe puts it. So she decided without further ado to become an interpreter and in this way use her means to fight the unfair treatment of strangers in the UK. "The upside was that I could make enough money to resume my career as a lawyer in the UK." After six years this goal was achieved, the International Criminal Court approved the Congolese as a lawyer for war victims, but her qualification as a lawyer in the United Kingdom was initially not recognized. Not so in Scotland, which has its own laws. So Debora Kayembe moved to Edinburgh with her two young daughters in 2011.
"They are targeted because they were not born in the UK or because they did not study in the UK"
“With my many years of experience as an interpreter, I was in great demand in Scotland. So I haven't suffered financially. Nonetheless, I wanted to continue my work as a human rights lawyer and also share my story as a refugee, denouncing the inequalities and racism that exist in the British system. " The way there led through the National Refugee Council in Scotland, which the Congolese lawyer joined as a volunteer. She worked there free of charge - but not for nothing. “That is where the Council discovered me, or rather discovered the realities immigrants and refugees experience in Britain. I started to criticize laws and programs that are unfavorable for people who come from another country. They are targeted because they were not born in the UK or because they did not study in the UK. " This growing commitment, says Kayembe with confidence, has caught the attention of large organizations in Scotland.
So she spoke in the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish National Academy appointed her a member - the first woman, the first non-whites, the first person from Africa.
Was she still exposed to racism even then? A resounding yes. Debora Kayembe remembers her car tires being punctured during the global uprising against racism after the death of the American George Floyd. And after her election as university rector, trolls insulted her as “leeches” and “monkeys”.
"Do not retaliate evil with evil"
When asked about the most important message she would like to convey to victims of racism, Debora Kayembe replies with a Christian attitude: “Do not retaliate against evil with evil. There is power in forgiveness. Getting to know the people you are chasing gives you the context of the situation you are in. Also, be tolerant of those who judge you. Promote dialogue with these people. There is always a reason for these injustices. Always try to see the positive side. The future always has a lot in store for us. "
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