Program works to unite refugees with family members

Vestina Inanahazwe received a call Nov. 15 from her mother in Burundi who told her that her brother is missing.

Inanahazwe, a refugee from Burundi, has been living with her two children in Clarkston for the past six years. Her mother, brother and sisters are living in Burundi and her father is in Tanzania.

“Burundi right now is not safe,” Inanahazwe said. “I don’t even know what to do.” She said her mother told her that one day her brother went to the store and never came back.

Although Inanahazwe likes Atlanta, she said it doesn’t matter where she lives because her family isn’t with her and she feels like she lacks the support system she needs in her life.

“It’s hard because I cannot go to school and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep a job and I have bills to pay,” Inanahazwe said.

Inanahazwe’s husband, who is also the father of her children, came to Clarkston with her when she was granted asylum but began drinking heavily and stopped working. He left four years ago and the last she heard he was homeless.

“It’s not good to be with no family,” she said.

Each day as her daughters arrive home from school, Inanahazwe is getting ready to carpool to Gainsville with her coworkers. Like many refugees in Clarkston, she works nights at a chicken processing plant, leaving at 4 p.m. and returning home well past midnight. If she can’t find a baby sitter she is unable to work.

The Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA) has recently reopened its refugee reunification program, which had been closed since 2008. Now, Inanahazwe has a chance of reconnecting with her family if they are granted asylum.

“It was pretty successful and what actually happened was, they put it on hold because they decided to use DNA testing and there were a lot of mismatches,” said Lesley Ediger, immigration services manager of RRISA.

Ediger said relocating Inanahazwe’s family will be a lengthy process but that her mother, brother and sisters are eligible for asylum. Her father will have to move to another country because he is ineligible for the program as long as he lives in Tanzania.

“A lot of people are interested in the program but they might not be eligible for different reasons,” Ediger said.

Many of the people who were reunited before the program closed in 2008 were biological relatives of those who had already been granted asylum. However, Ediger said there are some exceptions such as a family that has taken in and raised an abandoned child.

Inanahazwe hopes to soon be united with her family and has been speaking to her mother every couple of days to get updates on her brother, whom they believe is still alive.

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