I originally come from Gulu in the northern part of Uganda, which for the past twenty years has been subjected to violent armed struggle between the government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a militia group opposed to the government. The LRA has terrorised large parts of the country, particularly the north where I come from.
My husband was an army commander for the Uganda People’s Defence Force, which was set up by the government to defeat the LRA. My husband was involved in covert missions against the LRA and because the rebels never gave up without a fight, many of them were killed in the skirmishes. Often the LRA would retaliate by killing innocent civilians, including my parents who they killed in 1999.
One day in October 2002, one month after my husband had returned from a particularly gruesome encounter with the LRA, we were woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire and shouting. The next thing we knew, our front door was being kicked down by what sounded like a large group of angry men. My husband rushed out of bed with a pistol he had kept in a drawer by the bed. He confronted the group of men and as they hurled abuse at him I rushed into the room next door where my children were screaming.
I was terrified. I pulled my children close to me and we crept into a wardrobe, cowering with fear. I heard a number of shots in quick succession and could hear the men screaming abuse and insults at our whole family and my husband in particular. I then heard loud thuds and thought they must have overpowered my husband and were beating him up.
The mood in the room next door then changed and I heard someone ask ‘where is the woman?’. They soon found us and pulled us out of the wardrobe. They pulled me away from the children and hurled me on to the floor where they proceeded to rape me one after another. I do not know how many raped me, but I do remember my children sobbing behind their bed.
Suddenly, all the men in the room panicked and ran out of the room - some of them treading on me in their rush to get out. I could smell smoke and knew our house was on fire. I cried to my children who were so petrified they could not move from behind the bed. I somehow gathered enough strength to drag them out of the collapsing building.
I later learnt that my husband had been shot in the head and that his body had been badly mutilated by multiple beatings from rifle butts. I also learnt that the attack was retaliation for the successful mission led by my husband the month before.
With the help of my husband’s best friend, I went into hiding with my two daughters in another part of Uganda. They kept asking for their father, but they were too young to understand what had happened. I was hoping that we would be left in peace, but it was a forlorn hope. Less than three months after my husband had been killed and I was raped, I returned to our new home one day after coming back from church and found our flat had been ransacked and all our belongings were strewn all over the place, including smashed crockery outside the flat. A badly shaken neighbour with a bruised face warned me that the LRA were looking for me and they had attacked him instead, hoping to get information out of him about our whereabouts.
Leaving your country for an unknown destination is traumatic. I did not know I was coming to Britain. It could have been anywhere as long as it was safe for me and my children. But as an asylum seeker in Britain, I soon discovered that it was far from being a warm and welcoming place and I was presented with more traumas.
No one seemed to understand the traumas I had faced and I was refused asylum in the UK. The threat of being sent back to Uganda made me suffer from terrible anxiety and my physical health deteriorated. While I was trying to recover from all my traumas, my house in Leeds was raided in the middle of the night by immigration officials in April 2005 and I was sent to Yarlswood Detention Centre for a month. It was a traumatic experience and reminded me of the time when our house was raided by the LRA rebels 18 months before.
After I was released from Yarlswood, I was referred to Solace for counselling. I was struggling to cope with life when I met Anne, my therapist, at Solace. I had lost hope and life no longer had any meaning for me. Since going to Solace, my state of mind started to improve. The counselling really helped me. But then, in April 2007, I was raided at dawn for a second time and sent back to Yarlswood for four months with my children. Like the first time I was detained, I had committed no crime. It was a real setback for me and once again I lost all hope and was petrified of being deported.
Throughout my time in the detention centre, Solace worked with my solicitor to get me out. Anne came to visit me and offer me support. I applied for bail as that was the only way they would release me. Anne provided surety for me, which I really appreciated as there was no one else to help me.
Solace has always been there for me, especially in the dark times. All the staff are welcoming, friendly and understanding and for me it is like a second home.
At the beginning of 2008, while I was still being subjected to stringent bail conditions, I received a letter from the Home Office saying that I had been granted refugee status, which is a huge relief for me. It came completely out of the blue. Hopefully, my nightmare is over, but I am still going to Solace to try and heal my wounds.