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Refugee mother, son reunited after 8 years

Refugee mother, son reunited after 8 years

Memunah Marah shares a long-awaited embrace with her son Aboubacar, 9, in her small apartment in south Winnipeg Thursday.

Left parentless, she and her siblings walked around corpses to get out of war-torn Sierra Leone when she was just 14. Once they got to safety, she was raped and gave birth to a baby at 15. She was told to keep it to herself or it would hurt her chances of getting to Canada.

She got bad advice.

When Memunah Marah and her three siblings were accepted as privately sponsored refugees, the 16-year-old girl wasn’t allowed to bring her baby boy to Canada because he wasn’t included in her original application.

The teen mom was told to take advantage of her only chance to go to Canada, and that she could apply to bring her baby boy as soon as she arrived.

“They told me, ‘You’ll be reunited with him immediately’,” remembers Marah, who left her 18-month-old toddler with close friends. “I thought it might take three or four months.”

It took eight years of fighting to bring her son to Canada.

Marah finally won last week, when nine-year-old Aboubacar stepped off a plane in Toronto.

“When he came out, I screamed,” said Marah, now 24.

She met him after the boy’s long and bumpy ride from Freetown, Sierra Leone to London. The unaccompanied minor initially wasn’t allowed on the Air Canada flight to Toronto. After some last-minute scrambling and an additional $75, Aboubacar finally arrived.

“Everybody was crying,” his mom said as the quiet, smiling boy sat close to her in their apartment in St. Vital last week. Aboubacar has kept a photo of his mom holding him when he was a baby, and they stayed in touch until they were reunited.

“I know we bonded on the phone,” she said. “I’ve been really involved in what he does.”

The health care aide, who graduated from Grant Park High School, had been sending money for Aboubacar’s care and talking to him on the phone two or three times a week.

Between calls, she pined for her son.

The 200-member Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship that sponsored Marah, her twin sister and older brother and sister to come to Canada went to bat to bring her son here, too.

They hired a lawyer to take up her case. DNA tests were conducted to verify she is Aboubacar’s mom. The lawyer requested the boy be allowed to join his mom on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. The request was denied because of conflicting details of the rape when she was 15, and because the baby conceived wasn’t reported to Citizenship and Immigration at the outset.

“I was getting quite agitated,” said Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship member Donald Plett. “Something has to give.”

The church asked John Wieler for help.

Wieler, who’s worked for the Mennonite Central Committee on refugee matters and has been a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board, was appalled when he heard about Marah’s situation.

“There was a terrible lack of compassion over there,” Wieler said, referring to immigration officials in Africa. “On this side, there was plenty of compassion.”

Someone, somewhere in the system, had a change of heart, he said.

“We don’t know what broke the dam,” said Plett. “All of a sudden, on Dec. 22, someone from immigration said they had good news,” he recalled. “It was a wonderful gift.

“Was this a miracle? I don’t know. It seemed to take forever,” he said.

Now that Aboubacar is here, his mom wants to get the Creole-speaking boy into classes and learning English. Her hope for her son is simple.

“I want my son to have the life I didn’t have.”

The survivor said she’s grateful for the help she’s received, but doesn’t want anyone’s sympathy.

“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” said the beaming young woman.

“I’m really happy with the way my life is going.”

By: Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press

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