A family of six from Angola has been stuck at the Incheon International Airport for six months while seeking refuge in South Korea over fears of persecution in their home country.
The Lulendo family, now relying on strangers to survive, fled from their home after a series of events that ultimately made them fear for their lives.
The family’s plight began on Nov. 16, 2018 when their father, Nkuka, came across street vendors being chased by police officers while driving a taxi.
At the time, Nkuka was just fired from his job, while the Angolan government was dealing with vendors causing traffic jams.
“I was driving down the street and all of a sudden, there was a crowd that passed in front of me,” Nkuka told Aysha of Asian Boss, describing the situation as “complete chaos.” “I couldn’t just run these people over.”
“I swerved my car to the right, but there was a jeep that belonged to the police on my right, and I smashed right into the police car.”
Nkuka, who hails from an ethnic group called Bakongo, believes that his identity caused the mistreatment he had to face.
“The police noticed that I was Bakongo and more policemen came,” he said, pointing out the resentment his people face from some Angolans. “There were six or seven of them. They knew I was Bakongo and they started threatening me.”
On the spot — and apparently, without trial — the father-of-four was sent to jail, where he faced unimaginable torture.
“I stayed in jail, where they started to mistreat me,” he recalled. “I was tortured in ways that you couldn’t believe. I was there for 10 days, and every day, I was tortured over and over, and I’d cry.”
Nkuka found deliverance from whom he believes is a Bakongo officer, who put him in a jeep that dropped him off in “a region with a lot of Bakongos.”
There, at a church, he explained what had happened and received treatment for his injuries. What he learned the next day, however, broke his soul.
“The following day, I called my wife. She came to tell me that the same day I had been released from jail, the policemen had gone all the way to my house and they raped my wife,” Nkuka said.
Ultimately, church staff and others advised him, “You really have to leave the country because it’s dangerous for you.”
The family then started going to different embassies, hoping to obtain visas. They ended up at the South Korean Embassy.
“The Korean Embassy was located in the same neighborhood where I lived. We tried our luck there and they gave us visas.”
The Lulendos arrived in South Korea with tourist visas in December. According to Nkuka, they were supposed to head over to the local United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) branch and identify themselves accordingly.
“We came here with the intent to stay because we had escaped and couldn’t go back,” he said. “I know that we had a card from UNHCR.”
“With that card we had received, we were supposed to arrive, leave the airport, find the UNHCR branch here and identify ourselves as refugees,” Nkuka continued. “However, that’s not how it works here.”
“What we didn’t know was that we were supposed to start the application process here at the airport. We didn’t meet the requirements to obtain refugee status. That’s how we were blocked.”
Since then, the Lulendos have been living in a small space located at the airport’s Terminal 1. According to Nkuka, the South Korean government has tried to repatriate them three to four times, with officials preventing them from contacting the local UNHCR.
Fortunately, he managed to reach UNHCR Geneva, which then put them in contact with UNHCR Korea. Soon, the family secured a lawyer, whom they have been working with since January.
For six months and counting, the Lulendos have relied on the kindness of strangers — many of them passengers — to get through their days. For Nkuka and his wife, Bobette Ndandu, seeing their children unable to study is heartbreaking.
“The situation is very difficult,” Bobette told Asian Boss. “We suffer a lot. We don’t even know what to do, so it’s really tough.”
Their plight gets worse when at least one of their children gets sick, as they must allot their savings for medication.
“The hospital inside the airport costs money. We have to cut into our scanty food budget for treatment,” Bobette said.
One of their children, Rhema, 9, aspires to be an archeologist in the future. While he wants to return home, he understands the risks involved.
“I’d like to go back if we weren’t in danger of dying,” he said. “But since there’s a problem, I can’t ever go back to Angola. Even if that means I can’t be with some of my family members there. I’d rather stay here than go back.”
Asian Boss reportedly offered to start crowdfunding for the Lulendos, but the family refused and instead opted for help in raising awareness about their situation. They hope that with enough public support, the South Korean government can finally grant them asylum and enable them to live in the country.
Allowing them to leave the airport is a good start. “We really want to leave this place,” Nkuka said.
Images (Screenshots) via YouTube / Asian Boss