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Welcoming Immigrants During COVID-19

Ladner Christian Reformed Church (Delta, B.C.) welcomed former refugees Kukuye and Kiya, along with their daughters, to Canada on October 1st.  The family shared some of their story with the church community while they were in quarantine until October 16th.  This interview between Kukuye and Kiya and Bev Bandstra was originally published in Ladner’s Community Connections newsletter and Do Justice has been given permission to republish it here.

Kukuye:  Hello dear Ladner Christian Reformed Church. I am Kukuye (koo-koo-YA). I was born in Jimma, a city in southwestern Oromia Regional State in Ethiopia. I speak Amharic, Oromo, and English. I was a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church for many years, but was confused about eternal life and I had many questions about God. It was not until 2006 that I received Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Now I am rejoicing in Jesus and I love him with all my heart and soul.

Kiya: Hello! I am Kiya (key-a). I was born into a Christian home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and speak Amharic and English. I met the Lord as a young adult and I too love him with all my heart and soul.

Kukuye: I come from a family of six children. My father was detained by the police in 2005 and jailed for more than three years because he was suspected of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front. 

Bev: Some Oromo people would like to establish independence from Ethiopia after centuries of oppression. According to Amnesty International, there is sweeping repression of the Oromo population in Ethiopia. The Oromo Liberation Front was formed to gain independence from the Ethiopian government.

Kukuye: While my father was in prison, I was responsible for supporting my family. Soon, the police detained me and my sister for two years. After my release, I was able to resume my work but was followed constantly. I was arrested again in 2010 and jailed for 7 months. After that, my family helped me to escape Ethiopia. I spent 4 months in Sudan, and then was smuggled to Egypt.

Kiya: In 2013, my father was detained by government authorities because of suspected political affiliations, and a large bribe was demanded to have him released. I was threatened too and fled Ethiopia on my own, first to Sudan with the help of smugglers and then to Egypt, arriving in September 2013. I met Kukuye soon after I arrived in Cairo and we were married in November 2013.

Kukuye: Life in Egypt is not easy for refugees. There is no freedom and there was no future for foreigners there. As a foreign woman, Kiya could not go to the market or to the doctor without being harassed and threatened. 

Kiya: Kukuye was also mistreated, and the police are unwilling to offer protection to outsiders. Even though our daughters were both born in Egypt, they could never become citizens and their future would be very difficult. 

Bev: Citizenship by birth is granted in only about 30 countries in the world, almost all of them in the Western Hemisphere.

Kukuye: Life was becoming dangerous because Egyptians had begun harassing Ethiopian refugees. 

Bev: The Egyptian government and population is upset that Ethiopia is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River for electrical power, which Egypt (which is downstream) believes will greatly reduce their access to water.

Kukuye: At times the Egyptians beat up our people, but God kept our family safe. We lived in Cairo and attended the Ethiopian Evangelical Church; our congregation met at St. Andrews United Church of Cairo. Our church family were all Ethiopian refugees and migrants from a variety of denominations and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. We love our church family and many of us lived together in one apartment building, sharing our money for food and rent. Our children were not able to attend school in Cairo because we couldn’t afford to pay the fees. 

Bev: Most non-Western countries charge fees for children to attend primary and secondary school.

Kukuye: We were granted refugee status by the UN Refugee Agency. Refugee status means that it would be dangerous for us to return to Ethiopia. We were eventually offered a new life in Canada which made us so happy--Canada is such a good country. Our children can go to school here. And we can learn what we need to learn and get jobs here. We can live here in peace and freedom which will change our lives for the better. There is so much we can say about Canada! We are using our quarantine as a time to rest and pray. Afterwards, we hope to be able to attend church, and enrol our children in school. We want to take courses to improve our English and to find jobs. And we want to see Canada! Our daughters Eliana and Barkot (bar-COAT) are our greatest gifts from God. We thank the Lord for them every day. Eliana was born in Cairo on January 13, 2015 and Barkot was born there on November 22, 2016.

Really, I want to thank and bless this church family in the name of the Lord Jesus. We will pray for you every day. You are the reason for our new life. Now our life is completely changed because of you. Thanks be to God, we no longer need to worry. God bless all of you.

Kiya: Thank you so much, our blessed family. We don’t have the words to thank you. May God bless you more and more. We love and respect all of you so much. We want to worship God with you forever. Bless you!

The photo of Kukuye and Kiya and their family from their balcony during quarantine and arriving at the airport were provided by Johnny van Tol on behalf of Ladner CRC. 

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