Lawyer who left Congo for her own safety to be honoured by one of Edinburgh's most prestigious organisations

A lawyer who came to the UK as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was then rejected by the English legal establishment but made her home in Scotland is now being honoured by one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious organisations.

By Shona Elliott
Friday, 30th August 2019, 9:49 am
Ms Kayembe left the DRCongo in 2004 for her own safety

Debora Kayembe, who arrived in Edinburgh in 2011, has forged a successful legal career in Scotland and this week became the first female African to have her portrait hung in one of the city’s oldest buildings, The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) on George Street.

Ms Kayembe left the DRCongo in 2004 for her own safety and was placed in northern England but, despite having qualified in her homeland as a lawyer, was rejected by the English bar and had to flee from a domestically abusive husband with her two children.

The single-mother of two applied to the Law Society in Scotland was accepted and moved to Bonnyrigg.

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She is now a human rights lawyer and sits on the board of directors for the Scottish Refugee Council.

Meanwhile, she has successfully studied for a masters degree in linguistics from the city’s Heriot-Watt University.

She said: “When I landed in Heathrow airport exhausted and disoriented, I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen. Now I am the first-ever female African to join the Young Academy and have a portrait hung in the gallery. It is unbelievable.

“For me,coming to Scotland was a new start, I had a chance to get away from my husband who was still abusing me.”

When Ms Kayembe arrived in Bonnyrigg she felt “very welcome” and having now lived in Midlothian for eight years hopes to “live here forever”.

She said: “This is the place I have been most happy and I know I will live here forever”

After settling in Scotland Ms Kayembe’s legal career flourished and she also became an active human-rights campaigner.

Due to her success, Ms Kayembe was invited to become a member of the RSE’s Young Academy, an organisation which brings together the brightest minds from across Scotland. She is the first female African to join the prestigious society.

She said: “The first time I came to the RSE I remember seeing all of the portraits hanging up. It was all white men and only represented the Scottish aristocracy and their successes. In my mind I remember thinking ‘maybe in 1000 years there will be someone like me up there’, but now I am hanging up there.”

“It’s my hope that all people of different backgrounds and from everywhere can now join the society.”

Rebekah Widdowfield, chief executive of the RSE, said: “The presence of Ms Kayembe and other Young Academy members’ portraits in the Royal Society of Edinburgh is indicative of our ongoing commitment to recognising the great talent that exists in Scotland’s refugee and migrant communities.”