A couple from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Khalfani Ramadani, and his wife (Josephine) have been reunited together after 2 years apart due to the Rwanda ethnic crisis which started in 1994.
Khalfani Ramadani who is seeking asylum in Spokane Washington said he was on vacation in Burundi when he first met Josephine on the street.
Speaking to World Relief, he said it was “love at first sight,”.
He approached her. They got talking and within some few days he presented himself to her family and negotiated the terms of the dowry.
They eventually got married in 1994 and returned to Kindu, Ramadani’s city in the Congo. But unfortunately, the good times seem to last together.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 began and elements of the ethnic conflict spilt over the border of Congo. Ramadani’s wife, Josephine was a native Tutsi, a member of the minority ethnic group killed en masse.
By 1996, soldiers were massively deployed to the streets looking for minority Tutsis.
Ramadani said, “People were coming, looking for me.” He said they made it clear they wanted to kill his Josephine, so the couple fled. Walked about 250 miles on foot, begging for food from villages they passed along the way.
The journey stopped at a point in Bukavu, a city on the eastern edge of the Congo, right on the Rwandan border. Knowing that it was still close to the Rwandan border, they spent some few months there before continuing across the border to Cyangugu in Rwanda.
At Cyangugu, Ramadani spent 12 years there as a refugee. He’d studied telecommunications in school, but couldn’t work in Rwanda and relied on support from his wife’s family, he said.
The couple had two daughters: Asia, who’s now 20, and Amisa, 14.
Speaking of the challenge he had with the United Nations High Commission, Ramadani said he fought with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for years over his status. Because his wife was a Rwandan citizen, the commission said he wasn’t a refugee. He pushed back, saying she took his nationality when she married him and moved to Congo.
The Rwandan government intervened on his behalf, he said.
“If I die, your office will be closed,” he remembered telling U.N. officials.
Finally, he was approved for resettlement and came to Spokane in 2015 and in the same year got a job, working as a salad processor. His wife and daughters had to stay behind.
His boss, Margene Davis, was among the group of friends waiting for him at the airport Tuesday night to welcome his wife.
She said the company employed a lot of refugees, and almost everyone was aware of Ramadani’s upcoming reunion.
“They’re pretty excited for him too,” she said.
In preparation for Josephine’s arrival, Ramadani moved into a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Spokane. His daughters remain in Rwanda, but he’s working to bring them to the US as soon as he can.
World Relief director, Mark Finney was among the group assembled with Ramadani. He tries to come to the airport when he can, especially for family reunification.
About half of the refugees World Relief resettles already have their families in Spokane, he said.
“It’s just something I love. It’s one of the most beautiful moments we get to see,” he said.
Josephine had been in transit for nearly two days, travelling from Rwanda to Uganda, Amsterdam, Los Angeles and finally Spokane.
Too overwhelmed, Josephine finished a round of hugs for every member of the welcoming party and a long one for his husband.
“This is the mother of my daughters!” Ramadani announced to the group. He and his wife sat to the side as World Relief staff processed paperwork.
“I’m very happy,” Josephine added.