Re-posted with permission from UNHCR Canada
Last October, I became one of the approximately 12,000 refugees who were resettled in Canada. As such, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.
I am especially lucky to be living in Canada with my wife and two children and now call Ontario home.
I grew up in the Great Lakes Region of Uganda. My parents sent me away to a boarding school for boys, thinking it would keep me safe from the civil war that was ravaging our beloved homeland.
One day soldiers arrived at the school on a mission from rebel leader Joseph Kony to find conscripts to beef up his Lord’s Resistance Army. They did not care that we were children. They did not care that we did not want to fight.
I was abducted by Kony’s soldiers, along with my four best friends and forced into military training. They gave us guns. We wanted so desperately to run away, but when other children tried and were caught, they would kill them in front of us to set an example.
Five months later, my friends and I summoned up our courage and ran. One of my friends died that day. His shots at pursuing soldiers alerted us and gave us a way to escape, but our ordeal was far from over. We walked through the forest, day and night, without food and little water for about 37.28 miles.
We made it to my uncle’s farm and he spirited us out of the country in one of his trucks to the Congolese border. We walked again for days, until we were finally picked up by the Congolese military. Eventually they transported us by plane, then by ship and then jeep, to the UNHCR compound in the heart of the capital city, Kinshasa. In all, it took us one month to find sanctuary.
UNHCR staff registered us as refugees and took our photographs. Their van took us to the Maison de Passage, a large residence, along with mattresses, blankets, plates, saucepans and jerry cans. They also gave us food and new shoes. We were sent for French lessons and could move about freely in town with our UNHCR papers. We began to breathe easy again for the first time since our capture.
Over the next 10 years, I rebuilt my life in the Congo. I worked for a West African businessman and saved my money. I married my true love and we had two children together. Life was good.
The political situation then changed. A rebel group began to fight President Mobutu for power; and they had support from a number of surrounding countries, including my homeland, Uganda.
Suddenly, I went from being a refugee to a threat. Every Ugandan became suspect. Everyone forgot we had been living alongside them for a decade. We were routinely rounded up by government military and imprisoned, sometimes tortured, for weeks at a time. They would bring in captured Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers and kill them in front of us. It was unbelievable.
Once again, UNHCR came to my rescue. The staff was on the ground to liberate us and bring us home to our families. It got so dangerous that I could no longer go out on the street. Even a small boy could stone you, yelling, “Ugandans, go back to your country!” or “your brothers are killing my brothers!”
When the threat of violence got really frightening, UNHCR even took us into their compound for three months. Their office was often attacked for sheltering refugees from Uganda or Rwanda, but they never faltered in their protection of us.
Eventually, my family and I were referred by the UNHCR to the Canadian Embassy for resettlement, which was very kind. The Embassy then sent me a letter that gave me hope. Even though the letter said I should not quit my job or sell my things, it still felt like a small angel whispering in my ear.
Later, I would receive official notice that my application for resettlement was being reviewed; and I was told I needed to have a criminal background check, complete with fingerprints. Congolese officials charged us $400, so I had to sell my television and somehow scrape together enough money to pay the fees.
I finally got the call. “Your visas are ready, be ready to fly to Canada in a week.” When I showed the official letter to my wife, her face changed completely. All the distress just melted away. We hugged each other and cried. Our family would have a second chance at rebuilding our lives.
When we arrived in Ottawa in mid-October, it was very cold and there was a chilling wind. Something funny happened to all of us – we all began to itch! My daughter kept asking me, “Dad, what is happening? Why am I itchy?” The doctor told us it was the drying of the skin, as it happens to everybody who comes from Africa.
Several months later, we are still acclimatizing to our new home in many ways. I marvel at the peacefulness of Canada. Even your squirrels do not run away from human beings! In Africa, a squirrel will see you and run for its life.
My family and I are blessed to be living in our own apartment. I look forward to a career in business, possibly one that allows me to be a bridge between Canada and Africa.
When I see appeals for Africa on television, I am moved to tears. Thank you UNHCR for all that you have done to make a positive difference in my life and in the lives of my wife and children!
Resettled Refugee in Canada
We need more success stories like Abby Mukasa! You can help refugees achieve more success stories like Abby by getting a blue key!
Connect With Us
- Alek Wek's Journey Home
- blue key
- blue key champions
- Corporate Partnerships
- Photo Friday
- refugee awareness
- refugee news
- refugee stories
- staff stories
- UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie
- UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini
- UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie
- World Refugee Day
Tags#bluekey angelina jolie awareness bloggers blue key Blue Key champions children dadaab donate egypt ethiopia families famine help horn of africa how to help how to help refugees kenya libya photos refugee refugee awareness refugees refugee stories resettlement show support social media somalia south sudan sudan support symbol tunisia tweetathon twitter UNHCR united nations united states UN refugee agency USA USA for UNHCR video videos women world refugee day