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Sydney mum in world’s ‘rape capital’ due to COVID-19 red tape opens up on nightmare

Melissa Inkster, 44, has been stuck in the Democratic Republic of Congo since March – unable to get a flight home to her two children

An Australian mother left stranded in an African city dubbed the ‘rape capital of the world’ has opened up to Daily Mail Australia about her four weeks from hell as she desperately tries to escape the continent.

Melissa Inkster, 44, flew into the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 16 to help set up a charity with her fiance for the poor residents of the Tshopo province in the country’s east.

Eight days later the DRC shut its borders as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold globally, leaving Ms Inkster separated from her two young children back home on Sydney’s northern beaches.

The Curl Curl mother-of-two flew to the capital Kinshasa a week ago after the DRC’s government lifted international border restrictions, but has yet to make it home to Australia.

She said her life savings have been completely drained by being trapped in the country for so long.  

Adding further to her pain, in the week prior to her leaving the regional city of Kisangani she fainted and suffered a miscarriage.

In the same week, she had been robbed of her purse as she went shopping and was then confronted by a man with a knife when she got home. 

Ms Inkster was supposed to board a flight home from Kinshasa on Saturday, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo , but was bumped off

Ms Inkster was supposed to board a flight home from Kinshasa on Saturday, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo , but was bumped off

The man pulled a large blade on them and had attempted to corner Ms Inkster before her fiance Joe Bagala jumped in front of her to scare the attacker away.  

Friends and family have raised more than $15,000 to fly the mother home on business class through an online fundraiser after she boarded a regional flight from the Congo surrounded by goats in the freezing cold.

But she is still yet to be reunited with her children after four attempts to get home from eastern DRC and another week of attempts in vain to find a flight from Kinshasa.  

Ms Inkster’s travel agent secured her a flight leaving the country on Saturday but an administrative issue meant the airline did not receive confirmation for the second leg of her journey.

The mother – who does not have access to JobKeeper because she is outside Australia – is now facing an anxious wait to find out if her agent can get her home on the once-a-week flight next Saturday or if she faces even more time stuck in Kinshasa. 

She said the hotel she has paid for in the city is costing her $1,300 for a week despite the relative poverty of the country.

Sydney is receiving just 350 international arrivals a day and Victoria has suspended them altogether amid its horror coronavirus second wave.  

Ms Inkster pictured with her children Tomas, nine, and Max, six. She said one of the most painful parts of being stuck halfway around the world is not being able to hug her children

Ms Inkster pictured with her children Tomas, nine, and Max, six. She said one of the most painful parts of being stuck halfway around the world is not being able to hug her children

‘Do they want me to be stranded in a third-world country?’ she told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘I’m one of thousands in a precarious situation. I haven’t chosen to stay here for as long as I have.

‘People say things like “they’ve had a chance to come home already” but it’s not my fault.

‘I’ve now got to find a $3000 quarantine fee from somewhere and we have no money.’   

Ms Inkster said she was ‘dumbfounded’ why the Australian government were leaving her to languish in a country as dangerous as the DRC – which is ranked 179th in the world in the Human Development Index.

‘Being a white woman is particularly dangerous but being alone as a white woman in Kingshasa is really dangerous. I cannot leave the hotel I’m in alone – I have to make sure I have an escort at all times.’

She said she and her fiance had originally planned to return to Australia and live at her home in Curl Curl while renting out his property in Leichardt in the city’s inner-west.

Ms Inkster and her partner Joseph travelled to Africa via Europe in March for business. They have together set up a charity to help impoverished people in the DRC's capital

Ms Inkster and her partner Joseph travelled to Africa via Europe in March for business. They have together set up a charity to help impoverished people in the DRC’s capital

'People say things like "they’ve had a chance to come home already" but it's not my fault,' the mother said

‘People say things like ‘they’ve had a chance to come home already’ but it’s not my fault,’ the mother said

Ms Inkster set up a charity in the central African country with the aim of improving the lives of people within one of its impoverished regions

Ms Inkster set up a charity in the central African country with the aim of improving the lives of people within one of its impoverished regions

'I should write a book about what has happened, we were here to do good for a few weeks and now we're stuck here,' Ms Inkster said

‘I should write a book about what has happened, we were here to do good for a few weeks and now we’re stuck here,’ Ms Inkster said

The draining financial impact of being unable to get out of the DRC for so long though has depleted her savings to such a point she is now considering renting out her home upon her return to Australia.    

‘It’s been extremely tough – we’ve got no money we’ve had to try to get some from family and friends to support us,’ she said.

Her fiance – who works in the construction industry and was appointed as the chief of the village they have worked to lift out of poverty – had to stay behind in regional DRC. 

‘If he could have flown with me we would have but we don’t have the money,’ she said. 

‘I should write a book about what has happened, we were here to do good for a few weeks and now we’re stuck here.

‘We are actually really open to writing a documentary about it.’

An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo is seen on patrol in February. The country is ranked 179th in the world in the Human Development Index

An Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo is seen on patrol in February. The country is ranked 179th in the world in the Human Development Index

Her partner works in the construction industry and was appointed as the chief of the village they have helped lift out of poverty

Her partner works in the construction industry and was appointed as the chief of the village they have helped lift out of poverty

Ms Inkster's efforts to get back to Australia have been stifled by the government's caps on international passenger arrivals

Ms Inkster’s efforts to get back to Australia have been stifled by the government’s caps on international passenger arrivals

Perhaps most painful of all though is not being able to hug her children.

She said before Saturday’s flight hiccup she had hoped to have a sleepover party with her two boys, aged six and nine, back home in Sydney.

‘My son Tomas used to call me crying asking me when I’m coming home. Their Dad is doing a great job looking after them while I’m gone but they need their Mum,’ she said.   

Ms Inkster speaks to her sons on Skype as much as she can to ask them how their lives are going, but does not go into detail about her situation so she doesn’t confuse them. 

CONGO: ‘THE RAPE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD’ 

A senior UN official declared the African nation to be the ‘rape capital of the world’ in 2010.

‘Women have no rights, if those who violate their rights go unpunished,’ Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict said at the time.

The comments drew the attention of researchers, advocates and journalists and Congo is still known as the ‘rape capital’ in media reports due to widespread sexual violence.  

The GoFundMe fundraiser set up to help Ms Inkster explains she and her partner travelled to Africa with the intention to go on to Europe in March for business. 

‘Mel and her fiancé spent their time in Africa creating a charity and working with locals to improve many aspects of their lives and will continue working in these areas along with new business ideas when they are safely back home,’ the page says.

‘Mel has two young boys in the Australia who she is desperate to get back too. They need her and she needs them.’ 

‘Mel is a kindhearted woman giving to all she meets and wouldn’t hesitate to help another Mum get home.

‘The government isn’t helping and she is stuck in Africa alone which is also incredibly dangerous.’ 

Mr Bagala said despite some of their negative experiences the couple had a lot of love and respect for the Congolese people.

’99 per cent of people in the Congo are amazing. They are a beautiful people who deserve development and a better life,’ he said. 

At the 25th National Cabinet meeting on August 7, the government decided to extend caps on international passenger arrivals ‘to manage and maintain quarantine arrangements across jurisdictions’.

Victoria is battling a second wave of coronavirus infections, with the outbreak linked to safety breaches within their hotel quarantine program. 

International flights into Victoria have been suspended as the state attempts to control their active infections. 

Sydney is taking in a maximum of 350 arrivals each day, while Perth is limited to 525 each week.

Ms Inkster and her partner are stranded in different parts of the DRC because they did not have the money to get him home too

Ms Inkster and her partner are stranded in different parts of the DRC because they did not have the money to get him home too

There is a limit of 500 passengers in both Brisbane and Adelaide, while passenger limits on flights in Canberra and Darwin are ‘discussed with jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis’. 

A DFAT spokesperson said: ‘The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stands ready to provide consular assistance to any Australian citizen, should they request it.’  

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton for comment.

Caps on international passenger arrivals:

National Cabinet agreed on August 7 that existing caps on international passenger arrivals would continue ‘in order to manage and maintain quarantine arrangements across jurisdictions’. 

The following will apply until 24 October subject to further advice on quarantine capacity:

  • Sydney – limit of 350 passenger arrivals per day;
  • Perth – limit of 525 passenger arrivals per week;
  • Brisbane – limit of 500 passenger arrivals per week;
  • Adelaide – limit of 500 passenger arrivals per week;
  • Canberra, Darwin – passenger limits on each flight to be discussed with jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis;
  • Hobart – no international flights.

The suspension of international flights into Melbourne will also continue.

SOURCE: National Cabinet  

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