Two athletes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dedeline Mibamba Kimbata and Levy Kitambala Kinzito, have supposedly filed for asylum in the United Kingdom. Ms. Kimbata seems to be the more well-known of the two. She was a teenage basketball player from Kinshasa who lost both legs to a land mine when she was 18 years old. ”I thought my life was over,” she said. “People told me I had a new life now, but I thought: ‘How can you tell me this when you have legs and I do not? Even if I accept this new life I do not have legs.’” After two years in the hospital, where she often had to sleep in the corridor and borrow a wheelchair just to reach the bathroom, she received prosthetic legs from the Red Cross.
Ms. Kimbata is now a wheelchair racer. She states that the DRC received money for her to pay for a racing wheelchair, but she never received the chair. She arrived in the UK with her orthopedic chair (which is designed to be pushed by someone else) and only received a racing wheelchair when another athlete generously helped her out.
In the United Kingdom, she decided to seek asylum. Ms. Kimbata told the press that she saw her neighbors shot dead by government troops on election day and that 95% of people in her area voted against President Kabila. While these events probably would not qualify Ms. Kimbata for asylum (at least under U.S. law), the fact that she is a high-profile athlete speaking out against her government may put her at risk, particularly given the repressive nature of the regime in her country. For these reasons, she likely has a good chance for success in her asylum claim.
It seems that all together, at least six Congolese athletes and coaches (from the Olympics and the Paralympics) have requested protection in the UK. As I have written before, such high-profile defections are a powerful repudiation of the home government, and hopefully they will help bring about some desperately needed changes.
Finally, having assisted many asylum seekers in the United States, I have witnessed how difficult it is to leave everyone and everything behind to seek refuge in a foreign land. It must be even more daunting for someone like Ms. Kimbata, who will have to live with her serious disability in a new place and (presumably) without family support. She is obviously a very courageous woman, and I hope that she will find safety and success in her new country.