I fled Rwanda in 1994

Because mass murders started taking place in Rwanda in 1994. About 800 thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in just hundred days. My son Remy was 2 at the time, my daughter Eliza was 6. My wife, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, happened to be visiting a Rwandan friend in The Hague. Because I had to work, the kids were staying with my in-laws.

I left when the killings began, I fled Kigali and headed south. I had to stop by grandma and grandpa first to pick up my children, but was unable to reach their place. The violence was spreading from village to village, masses of people were fleeing, it was a mess. It was becoming far too dangerous around me. But I didn’t want to leave the country without my children!

I had to tell her that her little brother had been shot dead

I needed to call my wife in the Netherlands. When we spoke on the phone, I had to tell her that her little brother had been shot dead and that I couldn’t get to our kids. But she had called her other brother and he had brought the children to safety. Wonderful news! I ultimately found them. That was a very emotional moment. They had been my only priority.

We continued our journey to Goma in Congo. Once there, I called my wife again and she told me to look for the Dutch Doctors Without Borders. She had faxed them. When I found them, a tall Dutch officer approached me. I told him my name and he recognised it! He had received a fax from the Ministry in The Hague, which stated that my children and I were allowed to flee to the Netherlands. He asked me if I was ready to leave. I was.

In the Netherlands it felt so good seeing my wife at Schiphol. I was met by many tourists. It was cold and people offered us a jacket. That was a lovely moment. The people my wife was staying with all wanted to talk to us, but we just wanted to rest. I took a very long shower.

I decided to request asylum in the Netherlands. My wife had a hard time understanding that. It was unimaginable to her that she couldn’t return to Rwanda. When she’d left for her holiday, everything had been fine. She wanted to do something, fight for her country. I convinced her that asylum was really necessary. I had seen things that made it impossible to go back.

She was falsely accused and sentenced to fifteen years in prison

And now my wife joined the Rwandan opposition party United Democratic Forces (UDF), in 2000. She was elected as party leader and ran in the 2010 presidential elections. So in 2010, she set foot on Rwandan soil again. But Rwanda is a dictatorship; the current government soon arrested her. She was falsely accused and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

I always supported her in her efforts to solve the political problem in Rwanda. I think it’s really brave that she went there, I would have been too afraid. We are fighting for her release. The Dutch government and Amnesty International are among those helping us. So far without results, but we remain hopeful. My wife continues to be very strong. And as long as she stays strong, we can too.