Interview with Aissatou Diallo, Guinean mother who fled her country to protect her daughters from FGM

by zoejardiniere

08.03.2013. “I no longer have to barricade the door for fear that if I don’t, someone will come and take my children away”

The European Parliament estimates that 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering with the lifelong consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM). The ECRE Weekly Bulletin has talked to Aissatou Yalo, who fled Guinea to prevent her daughters from being circumcised. Aissatou and her children found protection in Belgium where they have lived for almost six years.

What risks did you face in Guinea when you opposed the circumcision of your children?

When a woman decides not to circumcise her child, she is segregated, stigmatised, rejected by her family, her neighbours and society. A mother is the only person who experiences carrying her child for nine months, but in Guinea when it comes to decisions about her child’s fate, the mother is reduced, she doesn’t decide as regards her child. The whole family has a say on every little thing.

What was your experience of claiming asylum in Europe?

When I arrived in Belgium, I knew nobody and I knew nothing about Belgium. I landed here with my two children and I had to try to knock on any door that might open to me. So I went and signed up and the Office des Etrangers on 6 August 2007 and they gave me a place to stay. I waited nine months before I was heard. Those nine months seemed very long, because all these questions were going round my head: Will they accept me? Will they protect my children? I knew nothing and I was in complete uncertainty. But once I was heard, I didn’t have to wait much longer. I was granted refugee status in accordance with the Geneva Convention and today I am at peace. My children go to school, I no longer have to barricade the door for fear that if I don’t, someone will come and take my children away.

What support did you find on your arrival?

I was well taken care of and for that I have to thank Belgium. I was given everything that a mother needs. The Belgian GAMS (Groupe pour l’Abolition des Mutilations Sexuels) had campaigned on this issue and thanks to that, Belgium already knew about the problem of FGM, so they weren’t surprised by my story and by what I had lived through. Everything was already in place for women like me in the asylum reception centres, and we were referred to hospitals through GAMS, who have affiliations with certain health centres who are familiar with FGM and who have participated in information sessions with GAMS. Really, it was so well structured that I was spared a lot of suffering.

What kind of reaction did you get from your community in Guinea? Do you know anyone else who has opposed FGM?

I know others, but here in Belgium, not in Guinea. In Guinea the family will always react badly, because it’s seen as a desire to turn your back on custom. These are practices that one’s mother and grandmother were subjected to, someone who rejects it is seen as a strange person, as crazy. We’re very badly seen, very badly judged.

How have you and your daughters adapted to life in Belgium?

We’re very well. I have been lucky enough to have wonderful daughters, they’re super intelligent, they adapted very quickly. Adapting was a lot more difficult for me, in fact, because I knew everything that I had left behind in Guinea. It was so hard to take the decision to leave, to leave behind everything that I had built in my country, and come and start again from nothing to save my children, it was much harder for me than for them. Children integrate much easier, especially since they were very young when we arrived, when we got here, my oldest daughter was just nine years old.

Do you think there is anything more that European States should do to help people in your situation?

What the European Union can do to protect these little girls that it has saved, that it has granted refugee status to, is to give them citizenship as well. After all, these children have the right to say one day that they want to visit the country that they come from, but if they arrive there and they’re just refugees, their family could still try to circumcise them. If the children visit their country of origin having the citizenship of their host country, their family will know that they are protected by their country. So I think it’s important that the EU puts a system in place to give the protection of citizenship to these little girls who really need it.