The couple are both originally from Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, the father was a graphic designer. Besides running his business, he used his skills to actively challenge his government. His outspoken criticisms resulted in his shop being commandeered and shut down by political forces, and in 2010 he fled to Sudan.
His wife worked in her family’s store. Despite the fact that she only lived a few blocks away, she did not know her now-husband back in Ethiopia. Her father was also outspoken against the Ethiopian government. One day, while she was away, the government came and took her father; he disappeared and has not been seen since. Her mother called her and warned her to run away to escape the government agents searching for her. So, in 2010 she fled to Sudan.
The couple met in Sudan, but they did not stay there long. The Sudanese government made arrangements with Ethiopia to return asylum seekers. Fearing that, if they were returned to Ethiopia they would both face death, they fled onward to Egypt. Their hopes of finding safety in Egypt were quickly dashed. With the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, they found themselves once again in danger. As practicing Christians, they constantly felt unsafe. Their fears were confirmed when the husband was kidnapped. Thankfully, their very kind and generous landlady was able to pay his ransom. When he finally came back, the landlady secured them safe passage to South Africa.
The couple really liked South Africa, but it was still not a very safe place for foreigners like them. He was able to start a small business selling clothes, but in a short time it was intentionally burned to the ground. Clients were robbed of everything and at this point they contacted the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to seek asylum.
Their asylum process began officially in 2015 and coincided with their decision to get married. The couple talked about the numerous interviews they submitted to as part of the vetting process. In all, they recall 8 or 9 very long, arduous interviews to establish their stories: who they are, where they came from, and why they needed asylum. They were one interview away from securing passage to the USA when our government changes the policies on refugee acceptance. It took another 9 months for them to finally come to the USA, and they arrived with their 10-month old son.
They are so happy to be here, to finally be safe and know that they can raise their son in peace. They both understand speak English very well. They have only been here a couple of weeks, but are eager to start their new life. They said they like Phoenix and, after meeting with the WTAP home visitors, the husband said, “I am so happy. Today I feel like I am really in America. Thank you!”
We will also meet a single mother from Burundi and her 7 and 2 year old daughters. The family found air passage to Brazil and then journeyed to the United States, often by foot. All of their relatives in Burundi have been killed. They fled the country for their safety and have been here less than a month. The 7 year old speaks 5 languages and looks forward to school. Mom was pregnant when she left Burundi and expects to deliver soon.