Saleh first arrived in the United States in 2010, determined to bring his wife and daughter to join him and start a new life together. But as the Eritrean refugee learned, it would take another four years and the help of a determined caseworker at Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service to make it happen.
Saleh had fled the country of Eritrea, a nation fraught with turmoil, located in northeast Africa, bordering the Sudan, Ethiopia and the Red Sea. He was granted refugee-status in the U.S. and was able to resettle in the Lehigh Valley.
Why leave Eritrea? According to published reports, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled the repressive dictatorship since 2001. There is only one political party in Eritrea and the current president, a former rebel leader, has remained in power since 1993. There are no national elections, no government organizational leadership chart and no published national budget. Independent trade unions, independently-owned media outlets, women’s organizations, student unions, charities and cultural associations are banned. All but four religious denominations are forbidden. The Eritrean government conscripts the country’s youth, both men and women, into military service at age 18, and also forces them into labor on state-controlled projects and businesses. Although the law says military and civil service conscription is only for 18 months, “conscripts” are truly at the mercy of the state. It is common practice for the service to last up to age 47 for a woman, and to age 55 or 57 for a man. This lack of freedom – and fear of arrest should they question it – is one of the main reasons cited for their flight. The small African country, which has a population of 4-5 million, is one of the largest per capita producers of asylum-seekers in the world.
Saleh is among the refugees fortunate to resettle in the U.S., as many are said to languish in desert camps, get kidnapped in the Sinai, be attacked as foreigners in South African or threatened with detention in Israel. As soon as he arrived here, Saleh filled out the necessary paperwork with the American government to bring his wife and young daughter to the states. However, it was far from a simple process.
As LCFS caseworker Marla Sell explains, “His wife, Jima, and daughter, Fatuma, had fled Eritrea and were living in Sudan. They had a difficult time communicating with the Embassy in Sudan, because she only spoke a specific dialect of the region where she is from in Eritrea and does not know how to read or write.”
Due to communication challenges and continual delays with paperwork, the case was in virtual limbo. That’s when Marla enlisted the help of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s office to expedite the case with the embassy in Sudan. Once the Senator’s office got involved, she says the case started to progress again. Then they ran into another roadblock, when the government requested a DNA test to prove that Fatuma was in fact the daughter of Saleh and Jima, which took even more time. Test results proved that all three were a family.
During their time apart, Saleh was able to establish a life for himself in his new country, always with the hope that it would include his wife and daughter. He has an apartment and obtained employment as a housekeeper at a local hospital. Four years after Saleh arrived in the U.S., the family was reunited at Lehigh Valley Airport. LCFS is helping Jima and Fatuma get settled here now. Fatuma will start kindergarten in the fall.
About Liberty Lutheran
Incorporated in 2001 and headquartered in Ambler, Pa., Liberty Lutheran, with locations across Pennsylvania and combined service history of 300 years, faithfully provides vital resources to more than 61,000 individuals and families facing life-changing situations. These individualized services include independent and personal care, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, hospice care, in-home supports, wellness services, children and family services, integration services for immigrants and political refugees and disaster response. Liberty Lutheran’s team of dedicated employees serves individuals and families through their family of services in Pennsylvania, including Artman, Paul’s Run Retirement Community, Liberty at Home, Lutheran Children and Family Services, Lutheran Congregational Services, The Hearth at Drexel (formerly Mary J. Drexel,) and The Village at Penn State. www.libertylutheran.org