Camille faced patriarchal violence from an early age. After the reprieve of a happy marriage was cut short, Camille was forced to again confront cultural norms that saw her as nothing more than property to be inherited by family members. Attempts to evade pursuit inside her own country failed and the police could not help her. Camille had no option but to protect herself and her children by seeking asylum.
From the moment of her birth, Camille’s religion set her apart from others in her tribe in Burkina Faso. Her parents were Catholic. They raised Camille to share their religion, but they did not protect her from life-threatening customs that prevailed in her community.
At age 7, Camille was sent to a hut in the woods, where she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). At 19, she was forced into marriage and had to leave behind her family and friends to live in her husband’s village.
Upon her arrival, her sister-in-law declared that she must undergo another FGM. A month after Camille was attacked and forced to undergo a second mutilation, she and her husband moved into the city.
Once the new couple was away from home, their relationship took a surprising turn; it flourished. Her husband broke away from the traditions of the men of his community. He refused to take a second wife, and he eventually converted to Catholicism for Camille. The birth of their first child — a girl — was difficult, likely as a result of complications from FGM, and Camille was in labor for three days. With an intimate understanding of the dangers of FGM and the support of her husband, Camille became a traveling nurse, educating people in rural villages about the life-threatening effects of FGM.
Camille’s career as a nurse, however, did little to prepare her for the sudden death of her husband. Doctors told her he died of a heart attack or stroke.
“My world died with him that day,” Camille recalls.
When Camille returned to her husband’s village for his funeral, his family forced her to undergo a humiliating ritual. They shaved her head and paraded her naked around the village while people beat her with sticks to exorcise the demons that they believed had killed her husband. According to the tribe’s tradition, Camille now belonged to the family, like a piece of property passed from one person to next. The family demanded that Camille marry her late husband’s younger brother, in part so that he would inherit her husband’s money. Camille refused.
Her defiance enraged the brother and marked the beginning of a violent 12-year campaign against Camille and her children. The family sold her home in the city without her knowledge. Camille was forced to move. She sought help from her family and several governmental agencies, including the police, but no one was able to protect her.
The abuse, led by her husband’s brother, escalated. He stalked her at home and at work. On one occasion, he came into her house, grabbed her by the neck, and took out a knife. Camille’s youngest son tried to save her and was stabbed. Her tormenter continued to attack and threaten her.
Camille had two choices: escape or die.
“There was nowhere safe in my country for me,” she says. “I fought for 12 years, and I cannot fight any longer.”
Determined to create a new life in safety for herself and children, Camille sought asylum in the United States. For the first time in her life, she had somewhere to turn to for help.
Once connected to our services in Houston, Camille received free legal and social services. Staff connected her with a pro bono attorney. The team tracked down Camille’s medical records, which documented her brutal abuse. They connected Camille with vital medical care, including medicine and eyeglasses that Camille had long needed.
The process of seeking asylum is not an easy one. In order to qualify, asylum seekers endure an exceptionally arduous process of proving that they meet the definition of a refugee. They must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of citizenship, and that their own governments are either persecuting them or cannot or will not protect them from persecution by a non-state actor.
After waiting 13 months for an interview with an asylum officer, Camille was finally granted asylum in early 2015.
Today, she looks forward to learning English and is excited to help her children, who are now adults, obtain safety and dignity in the United States.
“There are some cases that are difficult to close because we inevitably miss working with the client. Camille’s case is such a case. It is bittersweet,” reflected her Tahirih attorney.