Berhe Fisuh patiently waits at O’Hare International Airport. Dressed-up for a special occasion and holding flowers he bought for his wife, Berhe keeps a watchful eye on the terminal doors eagerly anticipating the family he has not seen in 10 years.
In 2003, while fleeing war and violence in their home country of Eritrea, chaos separated the Fisuh family. All six family members were able to make it to safety in Ethiopia and be registered as refugees; however, Berhe ended up in one camp while his wife and children were located in another. Now after waiting three years in the U.S., and three hours in the airport, Berhe was finally going to be reunited with his wife of 30 years and four children ranging in ages from 11-20 years-old.
In July 2010, Berhe was resettled by World Relief DuPage/Aurora in Wheaton, while the rest of his family remained in exile in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He believed that resettlement was the best option for seeing his family again and left the camp with the hope of a new start. As a result, he sought out the assistance of the Immigration Legal Services team at WRDA and filed his first Refugee Reunification Application in February 2011. Berhe’s first application was denied due to the lack of proper documentation, which can be a problem for many refugees. Poor translation and a difference in calendars, combined with rural living and an unstable environment, can make a birth or marriage certificate difficult to obtain or hold on to.
Over the course of three years, the ILS department was able to clear-up the discrepancies in dates and certify family relationships through the filing of affidavits. After two more attempts and two more denials, Berhe finally received news that his family was approved and would be joining him in Wheaton with the arrival date of Wednesday, June 5, 2013.
“After the denial of two Immigration applications, multiple interviews, and DNA testing, Berhe’s family finally arrived! It was a privilege for our staff to advocate on his behalf and see his family brought back together,” said Catharine Norquist, WRDA Immigration Legal Services Director
Prior to the family’s arrival, Berhe worked with his WRDA case worker to rent a larger apartment and volunteers from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville supplied a Good Neighbor Kit (GNK) to help furnish their new home with essential items. According to WRDA volunteer Anne Wetz, she was excited to be able to help his particular family.
“All of the refugee families that I have the privilege of volunteering with are special, but to be a part of seeing the Fisuh family reunited after all this time was extra special,” said Wetz.
Since their arrival, the family has been settling in, getting to know the community, and getting reacquainted with one-another.
“When I saw my family again, I didn’t know them. Now we are talking about past situations and about what happened in our home country,” said Berhe.
When the family was asked what surprised them the most about coming to the U.S they said, “The big welcome they received.” From the WRDA staff and volunteers, to the Eritrean community in Wheaton—they have felt very welcomed by everyone.
Berhe will continue to work at the meat packing plant in North Aurora to support his family and in the fall, his wife, Haimont, and his two daughters, Fithawir 17 and Hiwet 20, will be enrolled in the WRDA Job Readiness ESL Class with the personal goal of learning enough English to be able to obtain a Driver’s License and get a job. With regard to the two young boys, Samuel 11 and Okbit 13, they are looking forward to enrolling in school in the fall and getting to know other kids.
Because the family was transported from the airport to their apartment building and has no access to transportation of their own, they have not been able to explore other parts of community; however, the Fisuh kids’ biggest dream for this summer would be to take a trip into the city and take a tour of Chicago.