Having an Impact for Refugees in Africa

Chris Herlinger | May 21, 2014

A family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a pre-screening interview. Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

A family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a pre-screening interview. Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

It’s impossible for any humanitarian agency to be everywhere at once.

As a practical matter of logistics and programming, of staffing and finances, CWS can’t respond to all emergencies in all places.

We don’t, for example, have programs “on the ground” in a number of locales in East Africa. There, several countries – Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo — are experiencing serious political and humanitarian problems.

But even if we are not at work there directly, we are having an impact in the region overall – by helping resettle refugees from unsettled environments.

I was recently on an assignment in Kenya and got to see how our Resettlement Support Center works. It’s an impressive outfit with dedicated staffers who are making a difference – and keenly feel their responsibility to help others.

The end result of their good work? To see that refugees like Fuad Ibrahima are able to get to the United States and be reunited with their families.

I met Ibrahima, 21, originally from Somalia, shortly after he arrived at the International Organization of Migration Transit Center in Nairobi. He traveled from one of the region’s largest refugee camps, where had had lived since 2006. We talked about how he and other family members were set to leave Kenya and arrive in the United States – specifically, Minneapolis. There, he would be reunited with family already living in Minnesota.

Faud Ibrahima. Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

Faud Ibrahima. Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

Ibrahima, one of nine children, seemed to be taking this big adventure in stride. But he but could still barely conceal his happiness to be leaving the camp and seeing family (including his grandmother and uncle) and friends he had not seen for years.

He and others who have left Somalia have fled an extremely unsettled environment where people are threatened and random killings are common – “there are people who harm others, and just kill,” he told me – and look forward to new lives.

“I want more of a life and a good education,” he said. As a former Minnesota resident, I told him Minneapolis would be much different than his earlier life – the weather alone would prove a big shock. But Ibrahima said he knew what to expect – his friends and family already in Minnesota have prepared him through messages and stories posted on various social media platforms, like Facebook.

“I am so happy,” he said.

Before meeting Ibrahima, I saw a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a pre-screening interview conducted by a CWS-RSC  case worker; the family had arrived in Kenya via Rwanda. Like Ibrahima, they were bound for the United States, and their interview was one of the key parts of processing before they can travel.

“The reward of it is seeing a family off to a new start,” said Naomi Mbugua, a CWS-RSC field team leader said of the work she and others do, day in and day out.

Their work may be done in Kenya. But it has roots throughout East Africa — in the experience of Somalis, Congolese and others whose journeys involve crossing borders but are  grounded in the hope of new life in a new place.

Chris Herlinger is CWS’s senior writer