By Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women

On 13 April 1994, a miracle happened to me and my family.

When we learnt about the death of the Rwandan President, Juvénal Habyarimana, on 7 April 1994, we knew that it was over for every Tutsi person in Rwanda. On that day, I was with my daughter who was 6 months old, one of my sisters and her two children, my parents and few other extended family members. We decided to gather in a small house in the garden of my parents’ house hoping the militia killers would not find us.

But a few hours later, some militia and soldiers came to our house. They said, ‘We are going to kill you.’ My dad gave them whatever he could find and they left. Two hours later they came back. My dad begged them, ‘Please don’t kill my children!’ He gave them the rest of his money and asked one of them to take us to the church. He could have killed us, but instead he took us to a Catholic church that was just 5 minutes away from our house. When we got there, we thought we were safe, but that was not the case.

There were so many people – some injured, others dying. We were all so scared.

I was the teacher at the school just next to the church, so I knew the priest well. I went to him and told him there was small house where some other teachers lived nearby. I asked him if myself and my daughter, my sister and her children could go to hide there, so we could try and find milk for the children. He agreed and we went to hide in this house with few of my colleagues.

An hour after we had left, the militia and soldiers came to kill the people in the church. My mum, dad, nephew and niece were all at the church. Someone came running and told us they were killing people, so we thought, ‘That’s it, they are dead.’ But during the night the priest brought my dad and my nephew to the house. We could not believe it! My mum and my niece, Yvette, were not with them, and we cried because and we were sure that they must have been killed.

On 13 April 1994, a week after the beginning of the genocide, the priest who called my dad and told him that someone was looking for him and me. I thought it was the end and that we were going to be killed. We got out of our hiding place for the first time in seven days and were shocked to see Guy, my Belgian brother-in-law, and his colleagues standing there! It is a moment that I will never forget. It was like seeing God himself appearing! I was overcome with emotion as I ran back to the house to take my baby and call my sister, my nephew, my dad and my nieces.

The miracle continued as we were reunited with two of our loved ones, who we had thought were dead. When they had started killing people in the church, my mum fell on the floor and bodies fell on top of her. She was found amongst the bodies by the priest, who hid her in another place with few other survivors of the attack. My niece was also hiding with my mum – she had managed to run and hide in the bush during the attack!

Guy took us from College St Andre in Nyamirambo to Kanombe airport in a military tank, then to Kenya, and a few days later to Belgium. We were safe! Guy had negotiated special permission to find his in-laws and was only supposed to take them, but he couldn’t leave the rest of us behind. He ended up taking nine of us to a safe country! We were lucky to be rescued and to be given refugee status only a few months after our arrival in Belgium.

I am grateful to the family, friends and organisations who helped us to rebuild our lives. I can’t forget the sense of happiness I felt because we were safe. But life as a refugee was not easy. I could feel myself losing self-esteem and confidence because of the social system and because some people made us feel so unwelcome! As a professional with experience of teaching and leading youth organisations in Rwanda, I was told that all I could do is to become a cleaner! However, with resilience and support from family and friends, I managed to rebuild my life and build a career allowing me to fulfill my passion of empowering girls and young women. I worked as the Regional Director for the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts for over 20 years.

I am now the Director for Women for Refugee Women, a job that allows me to continue to support the most vulnerable women in our society!

Today, I celebrate being alive. But it’s a day of sadness for me too, remembering the friends and extended family members who were killed or who lost loved ones, the women who were raped, the children who were made orphans. Today is a day that reminds me the failure of the international community as the genocide was committed in the presence of UN peace keepers who weren’t allowed to rescue Rwandese people. I am grateful for what happened to my family, but always feel upset that the Belgian soldiers and UN peace keepers were not allowed to save more people.

Today it is also almost a month since Priti Patel announced the launch of the UK’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’. This plan will make it even harder for women like me, who have to flee for their lives, to find safety in the UK and begin to rebuild their lives. It disgusts and upsets me to think that women seeking safety from wars, gender-based violence, trafficking, rape and other violence will not be supported to be safe and to rebuild their lives. I will do all I can to share my story so that people can understand the reality of why women like me need to be able to cross borders to seek safety.

I hope that one day there will be no more genocide. I hope that every child and young person will grow up understanding the importance of love and compassion for one another.

One day love will win!