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A long-awaited homecoming for refugees

February 27, 2017 No Comment
The Jock family of nine pose with Revs. Simon, and Voelker at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Windsor, Ontario.

The Jock family of nine pose with Revs. Simon, and Voelker at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Windsor, Ontario.

by Jennifer Ardon

WINDSOR, Ontario – Nyaboth and Choudier were only children when they left their home in Akobo, in what is now the Republic of South Sudan.  Nyaboth was eight years old and Choudier was seven when they were forced to flee in October 2006 due to the fighting and conflict in Sudan. They fled on foot with their grandmother to Gambella, Ethiopia. In the chaos of fleeing, they became separated from their parents, Martha Nyakham and Moses Jock, as well as two other siblings.

Not being able to find their daughters, and thinking they had died, Martha and Moses applied for refugee resettlement to Canada while in Pugnido Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. Thankfully, Nyaboth and Choudier and their parents found each other in the camp. In the meantime, Martha had given birth to another child, having fled the conflict while pregnant. She and Moses tried to add Nyaboth and Choudier to their applications for resettlement, but unfortunately, they were unsuccessful. Sadly, in 2007 when their parents and their three younger siblings resettled in Canada, Nyaboth and Choudier had to be left behind with their grandmother.

Nyaboth and Choudier’s situation became even more difficult when their grandmother died in 2008 and they had to depend on strangers for support. At the same time, Ethiopia was not safe for two young girls to be without family. Returning to Sudan was not an option, however, because of the ongoing conflict and because they no longer had relatives there. They ended up moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a second cousin provided what little support he could. Eventually he too had to leave and so he found another person to look after his nieces.

When Martha and Moses first got to Windsor, Ontario in 2007, they started attending the Nuer worship services at Gethsemane Lutheran Church (a member church of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod). While there, they asked the church to help with bringing their daughters to Canada. For Rev. Robert Voelker it was a simple decision to help.  “Family belongs together,” he said. “That’s the only right thing, and I knew God would help us if we asked and we were patient….We have really good peace here, and we have to be ready to answer the call that God gives us. It was an opportunity. We didn’t seek this family; they came to us and asked.”

We have to be ready to answer the call that God gives us. It was an opportunity. We didn’t seek this family; they came to us and asked.

Patience was certainly needed as the resettlement process was not easy for the family. Moses and Martha spent several years trying to get the girls to Canada but each attempt failed. It was at this point in 2011 that Rev. Voelker reached out to Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR).  That year CLWR began the complicated paperwork to bring Nyaboth and Choudier to Canada via the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program. For Rev. Jordan Simon, who leads the Nuer worship services at Gethsemane Lutheran, going to CLWR made a difference: “When the application went to Canadian Lutheran World Relief, it gave us hope, real hope that they would come to Canada.”

His confidence was due to the fact that CLWR has a history of doing refugee sponsorship. CLWR was first formed in 1946 to respond to the refugee crisis after the Second World War in Europe. Since then, CLWR has been helping people who have been displaced by war, violence and human rights violations, to find a new home in Canada. When the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program was first implemented in 1979, CLWR was one of the first Sponsorship Agreement Holders with the Canadian government. Through CLWR’s sponsorship agreement, Lutheran churches and other groups have resettled tens of thousands of refugees.

The private sponsorship process has certainly changed since 1979. When Gethsemane applied to sponsor Nyaboth and Choudier, the process entailed completing several applications that had to be filled out correctly—a tricky process because it involved questions that are often difficult to answer even if one is a native English speaker. Once completed, these forms had to be sent overseas so Nyaboth and Choudier could sign and include supporting documentation such as IDs, birth certificates, passport-sized photos, before sending it all back to Canada. Sending things through the mail caused delay, as the packages could take weeks or months to arrive.

At the same time, the church itself had to complete their own Undertaking to Sponsor forms. Luckily, CLWR helped with completing the forms and submitting them to what was then known as Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for processing.

Once CIC had approved the church’s application to sponsor the girls, they sent Nyaboth and Choudier’s files to the visa office for further processing. The visa office responsible for the girls’ applications was very backlogged with thousands of refugee sponsorship applications waiting to be processed. Ultimately, it would take years for the applications to be completed and CLWR would follow-up consistently with the visa office for any updates; and most of the time there were none.

Once a visa officer finally reviewed the girls’ applications, they had to conduct interviews to determine Nyaboth and Choudiers’ refugee status and resettlement eligibility. Once the girls were approved for refugee resettlement, they had to undergo immigration medical exams, which also took some time to complete as there were some mistakes with the forms. Once these were completed, they had to do criminal background checks and security screening to ensure they were admissible to enter Canada. This also took some time.

Then, in June of 2015, CLWR and Gethsemane received wonderful news: Choudier would be arriving in Canada soon. Choudier arrived in late June 2015 and was warmly received in Windsor, Ontario by her family and the Gethsemane congregation. It was there that she met for the first time her younger twin brothers who had been born five years earlier!

The family continued to be separated, however, since Nyaboth was not able to join her family that June. This is because as their flights to Canada were being arranged, Nyaboth gave birth to a baby boy, Tesloch Taydor, in April 2015. The addition of a new family member delayed the application process and caused further delay. There was much back and forth between CLWR and the visa office abroad to ensure all the paperwork for Tesloch was done correctly. There was no telling when the processing would be complete.

“I thank God because I came to Canada and get to see my mom and dad,” explains Choudier. For her, it was a bittersweet experience. She was happy to see her family but was sad to be separated from her older sister with whom she had experienced so much in Ethiopia.

Tesloch Taydor is baptized, with his grandparents Martha and Moses serving as sponsors.

Tesloch Taydor is baptized at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, with his grandparents Martha and Moses serving as sponsors.

One year passed and still there was no news about Nyaboth’s acceptance to Canada. At the same time, there was growing concern for Nyaboth and Teslochs’ health and circumstances overseas, as Nyaboth was a single mother and without parents or older relatives to depend on. Then, one day in August 2016, CLWR received an email notification that Nyaboth and her son would be coming to Canada the following month. There was much preparation to make sure that they had everything they needed to welcome their daughter and new grandson, not only to Canada, but to a new home.

Nyaboth and Tesloch had a long journey ahead of them. They left Addis Ababa on the evening of August 31 and flew directly to Toronto, where they then took a domestic flight to Windsor. The long-awaited day on which Moses and Martha would see their daughter again and meet their new grandson finally arrived on September 1, 2016. The reunion was similar to the one a year earlier when they welcomed Choudier to Canada. But it was also different. It was better—this was the day when the whole Jock family was finally together again. After years of displacement and separation from her family, Nyaboth was finally home.

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Jennifer Ardon is Program Officer for Refugee Resettlement and Community Relations with Canadian Lutheran World Relief.