ABOUT DARFUR CRISIS
• Of the 4.7 million people displaced by the violence, 250,000 are sheltering in refugee camps in eastern Chad.
• Another 2.7 million remain in Darfur itself, in camps for the internally displaced.
• More than 300,000 people have died.
• Nearly 60 percent of Darfur’s victims are children.
• Another 250,000 refugees have fled to nearby Chad.
Source: United Nations Refugee Agency
Visa 93* arrivals 2002 through Nov. 18, 2011
* A refugee who has arrived in the United States, or a person granted asylum in the United States, can also file for a Visa 93 for spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.
Source: Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
Ibrahim Ousman waits for his wife and two of his three children at the Chattanooga Municipal Airport on Thursday night. His wife missed a connecting flight which pushed her arrival time back approximately two hours, a small amount of time in comparison to the two years they had been apart.
Manira Ibrahim Abakar, 6, smiles at the Chattanooga Times Free Press photographer while playing on the floor of the Bridge Refugee Office in Chattanooga on Friday. Abakar flew in to Chattanooga just before 1 a.m. on Friday morning from Darfur with her mother and younger sister.
It was 9:41 p.m. Thursday.
Ibrahim Ousman buttoned his blue suit jacket and stood in front of the security checkpoint at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
The Sudan native counted down seven more minutes until he would see his wife and children for the first time since he fled Senegal in 2008.
“It’s exciting,” said Kelsey Harris, a volunteer with Bridge Refugee Services and Ousman’s friend.
As passengers walked past the “no entry” and “security check-in” signs, Ousman kept looking for his family, peeking to one side, then the other. When the pilots and the flight attendants were the last ones out, he knew his wife and two young daughters weren’t on that plane.
His three-year wait would be prolonged two more hours because his wife missed her connection from Charlotte, N.C., to Chattanooga.
“She don’t speak nothing. If she speaks a little bit of English, maybe someone could help her,” he told friends who accompanied him to the airport.
Ousman, 32, resettled in Chattanooga with the help of Bridge in 2010 as a refugee with hopes of eventually reuniting with his family.
“From the very beginning I knew he had his family at heart,” said Father Peter Kanyi, a native of Kenya who also helps some refugees and has become Ousman’s friend.
Ousman began the paperwork to file for their visas in April and soon started to look for a car — not a small one, said Kanyi. Ousman eventually got a burgundy Toyota minivan.
Ousman and his family are among the millions of casualties of the crisis in Darfur, a province of the African country of Sudan. Since 2003, the people of Darfur have been repeatedly attacked by militia groups; villages have been burned to the ground. More than 300,000 people have been killed and thousands of women and girls have been raped, according to United Nations reports.
When the family was separated in 2008, his parents, siblings, wife and three children fled Darfur to a refugee camp in Chad. Ousman was taken to prison by Sudanese authorities, and he said he doesn’t know why.
The family eventually reunited, but once again Ousman had to leave them behind. He applied for refugee status while living in Senegal and resettled in Chattanooga.
Refugees can file for visas for their spouses and unmarried children under 21 within two years of arriving in the United States.
Ousman wasted no time. Seven months after applying, he received news that their visas were approved.
He thought they would come in April or May, even June of next year, but two weeks ago he found out his small apartment on Market Street soon would have to house a family — at least until they can move to a bigger place.
“Everything is clean and crisp [in the apartment]. You can tell he’s ready for his wife to come,” said Harris as they waited for the family to arrive.
It was 12:25 a.m. Friday.
Ousman once again stood straight with his hands clasped in front of him.
As his wife, Kaltam Yaya Yaqoub, started to walk toward him, their two daughters by her side, Ousman couldn’t contain his smile. He hugged her, then quickly turned his attention to his 3-year-old daughter Aziza Ibrahim Abakar, whom he hadn’t met. His wife was two months pregnant when he fled for his safety.
“I don’t have seen her, only today,” he said, carrying his daughter in his arms.
Life was hard at the camp, especially having to raise three small children without her husband, Yaqoub said in her native language, Masalit. Sometimes the children would run a fever and she didn’t know what to do. There was no one to help her, and she would run out of food with no money to buy more.
About 250,000 Darfurians live in 12 large refugee camps in eastern Chad, including Gaga camp, where Ousman’s mother and his wife and children lived.
Yaqoub, 23, left Chad on Nov. 12 with Aziza and her 6-year-old sister Manira, but had to leave her son, Mohamed, 5, behind because of tradition. In their tribe, mothers-in-law get to keep the first and/or second child.
“The grandmother grows old and no one is with her, so she wants a kid,” said Ousman.
Both parents hope one day their son will be able to join them.
After the hardships Yaqoub endured in the camp and days of travel to get to the United States, talking about getting lost in Charlotte after following other passengers off the plane prompted the biggest laugh from the otherwise soft-spoken woman.
And Ousman is simply happy to have his family with him.
“I’m happy, I can’t believe it,” he said, smiling as he held Aziza in his arms.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...