Yudaya Nanyonga
oil on canvas
40" x 30"

(Purchasing Information)

United States

Fleeing Uganda in fear for her life, Yudaya Nanyonga was 19 years old when she arrived in the United States in 1997 seeking asylum and freedom from persecution. What followed instead was a 2-year ordeal of solitude, indignity, and fear.

Believing she had reached freedom as she departed the plane at JFK International Airport in New York, Nanyonga was instead met with the harsh reality that is often the fate of asylum-seekers arriving in the United States without valid documentation: prolonged detention pending the outcome of their request. Not lucky enough to win the discretionary parole that is sparingly granted to others in her situation, Nanyonga spent more than 6 months at the INS Wackenhut detention center in Queens, only to be transferred to the maximum-security unit of the York County Prison in Pennsylvania to free up bed space at the INS center. The move in itself was unfortunately not unusual, as recent regulations require stricter detention of refugees, overwhelming INS centers and resulting in incarceration at municipal criminal facilities for more than half of all detainees. But for Nanyonga, arrival at a facility that was notorious amongst detainees for its gruesome reputation created panic. For expressing her fear, Nanyonga was met by five men in riot gear, by whom she was thrown to the ground, stripped, restrained spread-eagle on a cot, and injected with a sedative that rendered her unconscious for two days. Waking up partially clothed and unrestrained, she retains no knowledge of what happened to her in the intervening time.

Nanyonga spent the next month and a half in the York County maximum-security prison, until intervention by refugee support groups gained her transfer back to Wackenhut. Even then, she would languish another year in detention until her asylum was granted. Now free, she is left to overcome nightmares of this experience that rival the very ones from which she fled.

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