By Dr. Jan Bigland-Pritchard, Office of Migration, Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon
These days, Roko is having trouble sleeping at night. And when she watches her older kids and cuddles her baby, snug in Saskatoon, her heart aches, especially when it rains.
Roko and husband Negasi, who now live in Saskatoon, were once Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In the camp where they stayed, refugees and the local people lived close together, and Roko made a close Tigrayan friend named Alem. That friend is now a refugee herself, forced by the conflict in Tigray to flee with her family to Sudan.
Roko remembers, “She was like a sister to me, she helped like a sister. We braided each others’ hair, and if she had extra clothes, she would share with me. She introduced me to the rest of her family.” They were neighbours for two years, and when Alem moved to Humera to get married, the two women stayed in touch.
Alem and her husband were raising two daughters and had a pretty good life in Humera, until November of 2020. That was when the current deadly conflict in Tigray engulfed their town and they were forced to flee. Humera has an airport and is close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan, and was one of the first places to be attacked.
The attacks came so fast that Alem’s family could not even flee together. Along with many other civilians, they found themselves seeking refuge in Sudan. Alem and her daughters were sent to Tenedba camp, and her husband and brother to Umm Rakuba camp.
To call Tenedba a refugee camp is to perhaps overstate the case. The UN and the Sudanese government had to scramble to deal with the sudden arrival of so many desperate people.
Tenedba is a new camp, growing up make-shift in the desert. Alem and her 14-year-old and 8-year-old daughters were given a folded tent and very basic equipment, and left to put up the tent themselves. There were sleeping mats but no table. When Alem needed to photograph a document to send to us, she had to peg it out with stones on the desert sand.
The area near Tenedba camp is very dry, but it does have a rainy season in the spring, when the desert sands turn into mud.
In Saskatoon, Roko’s dreams are haunted by the image of Alem and her girls sitting this spring in their tent, in the mud, in the rain. And then the tent collapsed.
Although they managed to get their tent up again, Alem and her family are stuck. In a few short days, they went from a good life in Humera to a small tent in the desert. The kids are missing their dad, but no one can travel. Food is in short supply, and some children in the camp are getting sick.
After the rainy season comes the heat, and with moist heat come the mosquitoes, carrying malaria. Roko shudders when she tells me this. She remembers all too well when her husband came down with malaria in their camp. It was a long road to recovery.
Roko and Negasi very much want to repay the debt of friendship that they owe to Alem. She stood with them in their time of need, and now they want to stand with her.
Roko and Negasi want to sponsor Alem and her family to come to Canada. They have saved $5,000 towards the cost of the $19,000 needed for the sponsorship to meet government standards, and they have a basement suite where the family can stay for free.
Roko says, “I put away $50 a month for my children’s future education. They can have that too.” I express my concern that her kids would lose out but she says, “My kids are safe, they are fed, they are in school. Her kids have nothing.”
Can we help Roko and Negasi to help their friends? Their family finances are stretched, as they already support family members abroad. Can we help? Can you help?
What we need:
Money – We need another $14,000 before we can submit the application as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder. The funds go into an in-trust account with the diocese in the family’s name, and will be used to fund their first year in Canada. Donations large and small are welcome. If for some reason, the family cannot come to Canada, the funds are returned with interest to the original donors. Because it is for a named family, charity law means that we can’t issue a tax receipt for donations. Donations can be made by cheque to Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, 123 Nelson Road, Saskatoon, SK S7S 1H1 or received by e-transfer. Please contact Jan Bigland-Pritchard at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
A group – Jan Bigland-Pritchard has worked on successful sponsorships with Roko and Negasi in the past, but the practice of the diocesan Migration Office is always to pair would-be co-sponsors with a trained and established parish or community settlement team (Constituent Group). This helps to share out the many tasks of the settlement work and provide good accountability for the progress of the sponsorship. So we need a group. Could your parish or organization step up? Or could you as an individual volunteer to be part of a new Constituent Group with others?
Migration Office Coordinator Jan Bigland-Pritchard says: “I am not qualified to assess the political situation in Ethiopia and Sudan, but for me this is a straightforward humanitarian issue. As we watch the news, many have felt sick and sad for those who have been made refugees by the current conflict. Helping Roko and Negasi make this sponsorship happen is one very concrete and specific way to express our pain and make a path of hope. And I want Roko to start getting some sleep again.”
To donate or to volunteer to help with this sponsorship, please contact Dr. Jan Bigland-Pritchard-Pritchard, Coordinator of the Office of Migration in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon: email@example.com
To support the work of the diocese of Saskatoon Office of Migration in general (rather than this specific project), donate online at dscf.ca/baa/ and designate your gift to “Office of Migration” in the drop-down box entitled”Ministry Directed Gift Preferences.”