Nairobi, 13 March 2023 – At the height of the civil war that rocked South Sudan between 2011 and 2016, several families were forced to flee the affected areas, among them 24-year-old Peter Kaman. He lost his father to the devastating war in his hometown of Pibor and was separated from his mother and four siblings. That would be his last memory of them as efforts to trace their whereabouts have borne no fruit to date. He had to live with his uncle in Juba.
“I went through a lot. Losing your family and seeing dead bodies when you are just a kid. It can be very difficult,” said Kaman with a tinge of nostalgia for the days spent with the family.
In 2015 Kaman, together with his cousin, fled South Sudan for Kenya where they found themselves in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, after traveling for four days by road.
“My cousin, who had stayed in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya before, had a friend in Nairobi who picked and hosted us.”
Like Kaman, 40-year-old Yonas* has been a refugee in Kenya for nine years, after fleeing persecution in Ethiopia.
Now, both Kaman and Yonas are among 57 refugees who are being resettled to the United States (US) by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the support of the US government’s United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) in February 2023. Kaman says with the resettlement to the United States, he can now realize his dream of studying law.
“I’m very excited. Now I can dare to dream. Life has always been very hard. When I get to the US, I want to study law.”
Yonas, on the other hand, says he applied for resettlement to the US to secure a better life and help support his family back home. His mother moved to the US some years ago, and he’s looking forward to being reunited with her.
“I am really happy to move to the US. I hope in the US, if I work hard, I will be able to get job opportunities that I have not been able to previously and bring the rest of my family over from Ethiopia.”
The refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, who are being resettled to the United States have all been hosted in Kenya for years and have been waiting for the opportunity to be resettled, some for many years. Under the USRAP, refugees like Yonas and Kaman are supported with case processing, medical and health assessments, cultural orientation, and travel arrangements.
IOM in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and Church World Services, a faith-based organization, and other resettlement partners have helped to resettle over 135,198 refugees from the East and Horn of Africa since 2019 and over 325,000 refugees from across Africa since 1990 through USRAP.
The launch of Welcome Corps, a new US Department of State programme to empower everyday Americans to sponsor and welcome refugees arriving through the US Refugee Admissions Program allows private citizens to support the resettlement of refugees as they begin to build their new lives in the United States.
Refugee resettlement remains an important component of the work of IOM in its support for displaced people in the region.
“Tens of thousands of families in the resettlement pipeline in Africa have waited many years to depart. We are hopeful that the invigoration of the USRAP programme through the Welcome Corps can help to clear this backlog and provide resolution to families that have waited years for resettlement,” noted Justin MacDermott, IOM Deputy Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of refugees in the East and Horn of Africa region are forced to flee their countries to seek safety. They are running away from conflict, violence, political instability, and persecution.
There are more than 4.9 million refugees in the region as of June 2022. Aid agencies predict that more than 120,000 refugees will arrive in Kenya’s sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in 2023 alone.
*Names have been changed to protect their identity
This story was written by Kenneth Odiwuor, Communications and Public Information Officer at IOM Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa.