Paralympic Athletes Seek Asylum

by Jason Dzubow on September 10, 2012

The Paralympic Games wrapped up earlier this week in London, and like the Olympic Games, some athletes have decided to seek asylum rather than return home. 

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 (left) received a racing wheelchair from Anne Wafula Strike, a Kenyan-born British athlete.

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.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ana November 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Also, in Israel there is not a good atmophere in relation with refugees or asylum seekers. Some month ago the Interior Minister wants to return Nuba people to Sudan. Hopefully Israel could not do it because she does not have any political relation with Sudan. But, always the immigration police is detaining people and now a day, at the South, they are building a big prison for what they call infiltrations, a very bad way to say people who fleed from genocide.


ana November 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I wanted to ask if someone can help Roni Tartin, an asylum seeker from Nuba people in Israel. He and his family wants to leave Israel and been accepted in a third country. Israel does not give a refugee status, and Roni Tartin can not compite in international competetions.


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