Going Home: In memory of Appo*

Thousands of clients walk through Scalabrini’s doors every year. As staff, we have different types of interaction with each client. In some cases, different teams get involved to find a solution. Some stories stay with you forever. Appo will remain someone particularly important to us as a team.

This is in memory of Appo, and is dedicated to his family, wherever they might be.

Falling sick far from home

Appo* was from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He migrated to South Africa in 2011. He started a life in Cape Town, but the following year in 2012, he suffered a gunshot wound to the head and his chin was damaged. The wound resulted in cancer, affecting his face. He was treated in the hospital and underwent surgery and different therapies. Appo was becoming increasingly sick and, unable to work, he also lost his job. Sadly, the hospital told him there was nothing more that could be done. Recognizing that he was terminally ill, Appo began to want to return to his homeland.

A final wish to return home

Despite it being uncomfortable to move, Appo got onto public transport and often came to Scalabrini. When Appo decided that he wished to return home for his final months, he approached the Welfare Team at Scalabrini for assistance. At that point, they could not assist him in returning home; and as Appo had no other means to leave, it seemed that Appo was trapped in South Africa.

He was renting a small room and Scalabrini assisted with transport, and rent, and was helped by his local church. It was increasingly difficult for Appo to move around and to speak, because the illness was affecting his facial abilities. Finally, Welfare was put in touch with a private donor who was willing to fund the flight home.

One would imagine that the return home of a terminally ill person would be a relatively simple, smooth process. But assisting with the return of Appo took the full force of the Welfare and Advocacy teams combined.

Ensuring a dignified return

Normally, returning to your country of origin is a complex administrative process; you must hold official documentation to both leave South Africa and enter your country. The Advocacy Programme  worked with the Department of Home Affairs to cancel Appo’s asylum documentation – a process that typically takes months. Simultaneously, the Congolese authorities had to recognize him as a citizen in issuing emergency travel documentation. For each of these processes, many other documents are required. Above this, the Welfare and Advocacy Teams worked to ensure he would be accepted on the flight as he was at stage four cancer. This process required Appo to come in and out of Scalabrini and to various places, which must have been exhausting for him.

Taking flight

Finally, after many hurdles and difficulties – which we were all aware fell mainly on Appo’s shoulders – Appo was on the plane to DRC. It was his first time on a plane, and he was alone and not well. Complications led to him being denied entry to the connecting flight in Johannesburg, and the Scalabrini team in Johannesburg were able to assist him in providing shelter and medical assistance before rearranging his boarding on the next flight to DRC.

Final words

Finally, Etienne received a call from a Congolese number. It was an official at the airport in Congo, who called to say that Appo was at the airport but no one was there to collect him. We believe that his family, with whom we had been in touch, had not been able to afford the journeys to the airport from the village and had perhaps suffered a break-down in communication as Appo was not on two previous flights that he was meant to be on.

The church network was alerted and a local priest from Lubumbashi was able to collect and host Appo. We asked to speak to him, but the journey seemed to have exhausted him as the priest told us that Appo was not able to speak anymore. Such a journey is exhausting for a person in good health, let alone someone in Appo’s state. Appo stayed at the church in Lubumbashi, where he was looked after by the church staff as best they could.

Weeks later, we received news that Appo had passed away. It brought us sadness and, to some degree, relief – because Appo was in pain and all he wanted to do was go home. Whilst he was not with his family, he at least passed away in his hometown of Lubumbashi, on his own soil, and was not alone.

We never got to speak again to his family, but we often think of them and wish them the best, as well as everyone who helped Appo along his way – from airport officials to priests. In memory of Appo, who fought until the end.

*Names have been changed to protect his identity.