My name is Hussein Amani. I am a journalist from Africa. Through the kind assistance of Human Rights First and my pro bono lawyers at Steptoe and Johnson, a law firm also in Washington DC, I have been granted asylum in the United States. I now live and work in Washington, DC.
Even as I write this summary of the circumstances leading to my being a refugee in America, I sometimes feel as if all this is just a dream from which I would eventually awake. I know of course, that I am not dreaming. I am indeed, a refugee in America. I was forced to flee my dear motherland, to leave my dear parents, my wife and children, my friends and relatives, and all that I have ever lived and worked for. I am only glad that I left all these behind to protect not only my life so that I could live to fight another day, but also to protect and nurture my convictions, my ideals, my integrity and what I hold to be truth and justice. I therefore have no regrets at all.
My troubles began about seven years ago when I abandoned a well paid but exceedingly boring administrative job, took a cut in pay, and accepted a press job at a local newspaper. I must hasten to add that I have no regrets whatsoever in this matter too. Indeed, I am glad that I made the right choice and took up a job that enabled me to stand up for truth, justice and human rights.
It so happened that my country, like so many other African countries, is under a military dictatorship. A group of soldiers had suddenly decided that because they had the guns and there was so much public discontent against the inept and nauseatingly corrupt civilian government that ran our country since independence, they may as well seize power, which they did.
Like their counterparts across the continent, they justified their criminal act by stating the obvious: the civilians were corrupt and inept and that was why they decided to step in to stop the rot and save the nation from going to the dogs. They proclaimed themselves national heroes and saviors of the land and for a while, kept public euphoria high by clamping down on their former corrupt masters, making glowing speeches and telling the oppressed people of my country what they wanted to hear: Change was here; this was a new era of national rebirth; the dawn of an era of ease and plenty; the end of the human abuse that characterized the former regime.
As a student of political science and a journalist, I knew that the soldiers were not the least sincere about their pronouncements. I had studied the history of military coups in Africa and was determined to do all it would take to make sure that the excesses of the Idi Amins, the Jean Bedel Bokassas and the Samuel Does were not repeated in my country. I knew what happened to those who opposed dictatorships, but as a journalist, I knew that I had no choice but to do what I had to do by the very nature of my job.
And sure enough the abuses soon began. Like their counterparts across the continent, the new military rulers soon proved worse than the civilians they ousted, in all aspects. They had co-opted all the vices of their civilian predecessors and added their own layers of evil.
In my writings, I likened what was happening in my country to what happened on Orwell’s Animal Farm. My country became a police state, a carbon copy of the scenario in another Orwell novel, 1984 and the absurdity of the situation looked very much like scenes in a Kafka novel. I harshly criticized the ruthlessness of the security forces and repeatedly reminded the leader of the glowing promises he had made after his coup and which he now hated to hear about. I blasted the regime for the naked injustices meted out to innocent civilians, for the naked squandering of public funds and for their rampant abuse of human rights.
Needless to say, I immediately became a target of the state’s brutal security apparatus. I became the target of frequent arrests, lengthy interrogations and detentions. I was repeatedly subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. I would leave my home and family every morning knowing that I might not come back home in the evening. And ever so often, I did not come back home but spent days on end locked up in some mosquito-infested jailhouse. On so many occasions, I was accused of being a traitor, an enemy of the so-called revolution and an agent of the West out to sell the country to its enemies.
The longer the military stayed in power, the more power hungry, ruthless and intolerant of dissent they grew, and the stronger my resolve never to relent. My family and friends grew more and more concerned about my safety and at some point, several months before I was eventually forced to leave the country, I had to relocate from a nice house in the suburbs to the city center because my family felt it was no longer safe to stay there. What with the spate disappearances, arson attacks, abductions, and night time arrests of perceived opponents of the regime? What with stories of soldiers visiting graveyards in the middle of the dark nights with jeeploads of corpses and burying them in mass graves? What with the very frequent allegations of coup attempts, the arrests of alleged suspects and on some occasions, the shooting to death of alleged coupists resisting arrest in broad daylight?
Eventually, when the regime started harassing my immediate family and were clearly out to get rid of me by any possible means, I thought it wise to leave the country. My destination: America. I was in love with the American dream and ideals and could not think of a better place to seek refuge.
It was in Washington, DC that I first heard about Human Rights First from my hosts. About two months after I arrived, I was accompanied by one of my hosts to the Washington Offices of Human Rights First. I was amazed at the kindness and willingness to help shown by the staff. I was interviewed and a case file was developed for me. About a month later, Human Rights First successfully found a law firm and a lawyer who was prepared to take up my case pro bono.
A few weeks later, I had an initial meeting and interview with my team of volunteers at Steptoe & Johnson, Eric Emerson and his legal assistant Jake Colvin. From that moment on, the duo worked relentlessly on developing my case file. Things moved surprisingly fast. I had a few more interviews with Eric and Jake and in early June 2001, my case was filed with the INS. Less than two months later, on August 6, I went for an interview at an INS office in Arlington, Virginia. I was accompanied by Ms. Tara Gingerich of Steptoe and Johnson, who stood in for Mr. Emerson because he was traveling, and the ever present Jake Colvin.
The interview lasted about 90 minutes and at the end, I was asked to come back a week later on August 13 to hear the decision on my application. When I went back with Jake on the appointed day, I was told that I had been granted a “Recommended Approval”, final approval pending the conclusion of the standard background check on all asylum seekers.
From that moment on, I became a free man in America thanks to the very kind assistance of Human Rights First and their colleagues at Steptoe & Johnson. It is exceedingly reassuring to know that people like me who face persecution in our countries have friends like these in America who would unreservedly help us find a legal and safe haven in America. With friends like these, who would be afraid of risking their lives to uphold truth, justice and human rights in ruthless dictatorships around the world, particularly in our beleaguered continent of Africa?
*For confidentiality reasons, this client’s real name is not being used.