Story
21 Jun 2022
By: Michelle Balon

Berlin – Against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, IOM Germany spoke with Jacky Kuhn, founder of Kenyan Women in Germany (KWIG). She represents a group of diaspora leaders supporting third-country nationals (TCNs) fleeing Ukraine.

All views expressed in this story are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of IOM Germany.

What is the mission of Kenyan Women in Germany (KWIG)? 

KWIG aims to give Kenyan women in Germany the opportunity to be part of a community of support while building their new lives in Germany. We hold their hands here in Germany, particularly with school-related topics, navigating German laws and addressing domestic violence. It is also important to mention that we don’t turn away women from other nationalities, or even men. 

What has been your involvement in supporting third-country nationals (TCNs) fleeing Ukraine, and how did you become involved? 

On the 24th of February, that ill-fated day, I received a call asking me if I was aware that there are Kenyan students in Ukraine. I said yes, and that we must do something. I felt that I had to jump in because I am myself a mother, and those students are as old as my daughters. I started with the embassy. One of KWIG’s members told me that her sister was in Ukraine, so I asked her to collect and send us a list of all the Kenyans. I decided to support because I imagined being stranded in a foreign land, needing comfort and someone to tell me that it will be okay—even though you know that it might not be. 

"Our core group began coordinating virtually, collecting resources, and getting key supplied to the students in need. We managed to secure quite a few hostel rooms in Lviv, so when students would arrive to the West from Sumy or Kyiv, the first stop was in Lviv to eat and sleep, before continuing onwards."

I put my phone number out there, and parents of the students began calling me from their home countries. That was a nightmare. I received calls from Tanzania, from Kenya—as a parent, it was so difficult to imagine that this might be my daughter, stranded, unreachable. KWIG began organizing Zoom calls, and that’s how this group came together. The group included Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, Mame Faye-Rexhepi, Chibuzor Rosemary Onwugbonu, and the Association of Kenyans in Norway, among others. The students began adding different organizations, we added the parents, and that’s how it began. But you cannot mobilize with empty hands.

I posted on the 2,500-member KWIG Facebook group that we need money, and that if each of us gave 1-5 Euros, we could mobilize to help these students. Eventually, we formed a core group of volunteers around the world. It was key that one of our members was working with Safebow, a team of global volunteers assisting anyone in need to evacuate Ukraine, with a priority on those in the most at-risk war zones and members of marginalized groups. Our informal group included members of different diasporas across Europe, and people on the ground in Ukraine.

Our core group began coordinating virtually, collecting resources, and getting key supplies to the students in need. We managed to secure quite a few hostel rooms in Lviv, so when students would arrive to the West from Sumy or Kyiv, the first stop was in Lviv to eat and sleep, before continuing onwards.  

People escaping the war in Ukraine. Photo: Muse Mohammed/IOM

Can you share one story that you think is important for the world to know? 

Yes. We were on the phone with four of the students during an attempted evacuation, as their car was sprayed with bullets. One of the students, a Kenyan girl, was separated from the group, robbed, and left alone. She proceeded to walk almost 50 kilometers in the snow. By the time she reached the Polish border, she was suffering from terrible frostbite and some of her toes were already dead. I pushed her to keep moving.

Once she arrived at the crossing to Poland, there were volunteers distributing tea, blankets, and shoes, and managing busses bringing people to Warsaw. When she reached the shelter in Warsaw—I was still on the phone—she was denied entry. She had me on the phone, went to the person running the shelter, and ask why she couldn’t enter. Do you know what she was told? “No blacks”.

That was a nightmare. Our group managed to send money to another hostel, where she ended up staying. That she was denied humanitarian support because of her skin color—words fail me. Between this discrimination and other cases where our students have come close to being victims of human trafficking, these are not issues that should be taken lightly. 

What is the situation now?

Most of the TCN students in Germany want to continue their studies here, but they can’t because they require blocked accounts. Non-German students that want to study here need to set aside 10,000 EUR in a blocked account, but these students were already paying for their education in Ukraine, which cost their families an arm and a leg. Some students are in their last semester of medicine studies, for example, and they return home empty-handed. They don’t even have transcripts.

I keep asking myself, why can’t our embassies vouch for these students to finish? Why can’t the German government help them finish their studies and allow them to work in this country?

As the situation currently is, the students will have to leave by August, but let’s wait and see what August brings. We will keep knocking on doors—as a nurse, whenever I meet colleagues and doctors, I ask them to sponsor a student, to help them finish their studies. Some of the students have signed up for German classes, while I keep searching for ways to help them continue studying. 

 

For more information on the support provided to third-country nationals fleeing Ukraine, please contact: mbalon@iom.int. This story was produced as part of IOM Germany's Diaspora Newsletter. If you wish to learn more about the work of IOM Germany's diaspora partners, you can read the full newsletter.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities