After Congo-born Fidel Nshombo spoke to Senator James Risch of Idaho about the needs of refugees in the United States, Nshombo and I talked about his 11 year trek from Congo to Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, back to Zambia, Zimbabwe and then his deportation to Mozambique and his deportation back to Zimbabwe. He started this journey when he was only 12-years-old.
“I was most wanted in Zimbabwe after being accused of wanting to assassinate President Mugabe, however, the UN intervened and got me out of custody,” he recalls. It was the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) that found him a home in Boise, Idaho, USA. He was just 22- years-old, starting a new life in yet another country.
“Being able to express my voice in a way that I could have not done in any other country is what makes me proud of what I am doing in the United States. In Africa, there is saying that a man exists when his voice is heard. America is making me feel alive again because I have the privilege to have my voice heard,” says the husband and father of two, with one on the way.
Nshombo, who speaks seven languages, including the pan-African language of Ki-Swahili, talks about the lives of refugees in camps in his book of poetry "Route to Peace I" and sexual violence against women in "Route to Peace 2." He is currently writing his autobiography.
It’s the retelling of his story face-to-face as a human rights activist that occasionally brings him to the nation’s capital. He is a member of the Refugee Congress, organized by the UN, that has the responsibility of helping refugees settle in the United States.
The Congress includes refugees from more than 20 nations, ranging in age from 22 to 56. They gather to meet policymakers and ensure that the refugee voice is part of the conversation on U.S. refugee policies and programs. “The United States resettles more refugees than any other nation and few know more about the process than the people who have been through it,” said Shelly Pitterman, United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees regional representative in Washington.
The UNHCR is responsible for the safety and well-being of refugees and serves 35.8 million people around the world. Pakistan is home of the most refugees, mostly from Afghanistan. One of the most famous refugees that settled in the United States is Albert Einstein.
Nshombo, who once made his living by killing pythons with a machete in Zimbabwe, now makes his living as a public speaker and writer. Living with an experience that most never want to imagine, he said in a recent speech, “The past never goes away, but it can be powerful and teach others how to live.”
Photo: Nshombo (left) speaks with a congressional aid and Representative Risch of Idaho.