Refugee family from Congo reunites in Chicago after 5 years apart

Thursday, May 27, 2021
Refugee family from Congo reunites in Chicago
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Five years ago, the family was forced to separate. While Mweniake and her son were allowed into the U.S., her husband was not, so he stayed behind in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After five years of being apart, Mapenzi Mweniake and her son, now 12, watched her husband and the boy's father walk through the doors at Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport Thursday - he was home, at long last.

The family embraced, teared up, and held one another.

"We are here together today. So, I am so happy. Very, very happy," Mweniake said, her arms hugging her husband, Mwenebatu Mwenemkamba.

It was a marriage reunited, as well as a family.

When Mweniake and her son left a refugee camp in Tanzania five years ago, the boy was just seven years old. Now, he looked at his father years later.

"I'm very happy because I meet my wife, our son. So we have to start a new life," Mwenemkamba said, practicing his English.

When Mweniake was a child, her family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo. She grew up in the refugee camp in Tanzania, eventually meeting her to-be husband, Mwenemkamba.

The two met at the camp, she said, and had a son. While Mweniake and the couple's son were allowed to enter the United States, Mwenemkamba was not, so he was forced to stay at the refugee camp until approved to enter the United States.

For the mother and son, memories of the camp are clear.

"In Africa, that refugee camp, we didn't have that much stuff, like food, shelter, medicine," said Mussa Mrisho, the couple's son.

His mother adding: "It was a very, very difficult life."

But once here, their lives improved in the U.S., thanks to the organization RefugeeOne. But it's unclear why it's taken years for her husband to join them.

"Sometimes the wait is up to 20 years, like in this situation, for a family who fled their country because of persecution or terror or war to finally get to come to the United States," said Sara Spoonheim Amit of RefugeeOne.

RefugeeOne has partnered with a Western Springs church that will help the family move forward. They are providing a Rogers Park apartments, furnishings and all, until the family becomes self-reliant.

"We are a church community and we believe it's our mission to welcome strangers," said Clare Kralovec of First Congregational Church of Western Springs

The family is looking forward to their lives in the United States, especially knowing the grim refugee camp they were able to leave.

"It's a better life, and better chances. We have better decisions," their son said.

"I will start a new life, and I will try to do the best in order to begin a new life and maybe it's going to be a good one," said Mwenemkamba.

So they begin anew in their Rogers Park apartment. A new home,a new country, and new opportunities together.