Rwandan refugee family find sanctuary in Sydney

The Sanctuary Movement, a refugee support group founded by Catholic parishes on Sydney's north shore, has raised enough money to reunite a Rwandan refugee, who now works at the Australian Catholic University, with his surviving wife and children after seven years of separation.

The Sanctuary Movement - Lower North Shore, which raises money to help refugees with air fares, worked with St Paul's Catholic College, Manly, donated $10,000 to bring the family to Sydney. They arrived early yesterday.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Damascene Byimira also thought that he'd lost his pregnant wife, Jeanne, too, and their three year old son, Derrick.

Yet he never gave up hope completely. He fled through Africa to Indonesia and, when the Indonesians kicked him out, to East Timor. Finally he fled to Australia, declaring to immigration authorities in Darwin that his passport was forged. He was locked up in Villawood.

Damascene who was a photographer and businessman in Rwanda was finally accepted as a temporary resident in 2002 and granted permanent residency last year.

Now he speaks five languages, works in administration at the ACU Strathfield campus and has been looking after one of his dead brother's widows, five nieces and a nephew.

Damascene had been separated from his wife Jeanne d'Arc Wibabara on 5 January 1999, when he held invading Hutu militias at the front door of their Kigali home while Jeanne escaped out the back with Derrick. She saw her husband being beaten as she fled.

She was not to know that he had been left for dead while unconscious. But she feared the worst, that he, like so many fellow Tutsis, would be killed, perhaps by having his limbs amputated. All she could do was to save the children. Yet she, too, never gave up hope.

Jeanne arrived in Brussels on 18 January 1999, and gave birth to their second son, Polain, on 26 January, Australia Day. Unlike in Australia, Belgium granted refugee status almost immediately, then citizenship.

Meanwhile, Damascene had not given up hope and sought Red Cross help to find his family.

They finally found her in Brussels. He flew to her in February.

Derrick, now 10, had not seen his father for seven years and did not recognise him. Polain, 7, had never seen him.

Damascene flew home to Australia to prepare for his family to join him. Jeanne was pregnant again after his visit. The little kitchen in Brussels was set up as a small "shrine" to Australia, with a koala and a flag.

Once were lost, but family finally found (Sydney Morning Herald, 23/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Rwanda genocide (Wikipedia)
Australian Catholic University

Pope calls for prayer to avoid repeat of Rwanda genocide (CathNews, 30/3/04)
Caritas director says Rwanda anniversary challenges all (CathNews, 8/4/04)

23 Aug 2006