AFTER witnessing her whole family being killed in the Rwandan genocide, Liliane Umubyeyi was determined to survive.
And tomorrow, 20 years later, she will graduate from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in International Relations and Politics – achieving a challenging goal she set herself almost 10 years ago.
Now 35, Miss Umubyeyi, who now lives in Park Avenue, Kidlington, emotionally recalls clinging to an avocado tree at the age of 15, while her 16 cousins, father, brother, grandmother and two uncles and aunts – all members of the Tutsi ethnic group – were killed by members of the Hutu community.
She said: “I could hear everything. What I heard has never left me.”
After escaping, Miss Umubyeyi, a Tutsi, was then captured, saw her mother beaten to death, and was gang-raped and imprisoned.
She was rescued by a family friend who then kept her as his ‘wife’.
After the war ended, she was looked after by another family friend. In 2000 that friend arranged for a woman to take Miss Umubyeyi to France for a new life, but she ended up abandoned at Heathrow.
She claimed asylum status and ended up in a hostel in Abingdon Road, Oxford.
The mother-of-two said: “I could not speak a word of English.
“I made friends with a woman from Congo because we could both speak French and she was going to Oxford and I told the people at the asylum hostel I was staying at that I wanted to go with her.”
Miss Umubyeyi learnt English at what is now City of Oxford College in Oxpens Road and applied to study at Oxford Brookes University in 2004.
But after a number of setbacks, including waiting for asylum status which came through in 2005, she began her course in 2010.
Miss Umubyeyi, who was named Ultimate Campaigner of the Year for her work with charity Survivors Fund, of which she was the co-chairwoman and is now a trustee, has been accepted to do a Masters in International Studies (Security) from September at the university.
She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do long-term but hopes to use her experience and knowledge to help others. A single mother to two daughters – five-year-old Anastasia and Ariella, two – said: “It has been a very difficult journey for me.
“I just had this strong determination.
“When I was in Rwanda I don’t think I could have ever hoped to have been somebody, or achieve something like this.
“My parents would be 100 per cent proud of me.”
Senior lecturer in international relations Tina Managhan said: “I was always struck by Liliane’s determination and her affirmative stances: ‘I will get a degree, whatever it takes’, she told me.”
The genocide in Rwanda
- Sparked when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana – a Hutu – was shot down above Kigali airport on April 6, 1994, killing him and everyone on board
- Hutu extremists blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) – a group formed by Tutsi rebels – and started a campaign of slaughter
- The RPF blamed the Hutus, saying it was used as an excuse to start the genocide
- It is estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days
- Most of those killed were Tutsis, and most of those perpetrating the violence were Hutus
- It ended on July 4 when the RPF seized the capital Kigali
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