A long-distance run

07 April 2020|JRS-Canada

Image par Ian Wakefield de Pixabay
Image by Ian Wakefield de Pixabay

Summer 2003: Lemlem, 16, was a talented young female runner from Eritrea. However, living conditions in this East African country, including a severe military service, offer her no promising future. She took advantage of her participation in the World Youth Athletics Championships in Sherbrooke to seek political asylum.

She then began her journey towards Canadian citizenship and devoted herself to training, hoping one day to represent her new country in international competitions: she participated in her first Canadian championships in 2008.

But during this period, all of her family members left Eritrea to seek refuge abroad. Lemlem, now 21 years old and a Canadian citizen, has set herself a new challenge: reunite her family in Canada. She wanted to sponsor her family through a private refugee sponsorship program. But these programs demanded thousands of dollars in deposits: “I was a young woman with no money, it was impossible”.

It was in 2009 that she heard about the Jesuit Refugee Sponsorship Service in French Canada. She contacted the person in charge at the time, Father Louis-Joseph Goulet SJ: “When we first met, it didn’t work. The second time, I told him how I had lost my family. I told him: you are my only option, Father Goulet! I don’t have money or a lot of knowledge. He sympathized with me.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) then began to sponsor Lemlem’s family. From 2009 to 2019, thanks to JRS, Lemlem was able to sponsor her three brothers and two of her three sisters (her other sister is a refugee in Germany), their children (15 nieces and nephews), their spouses, Lemlem’s mother and many cousins. Lemlem’s father died in 2012, and never had the chance to come to Canada. But by Christmas 2019, the whole family was reunited in Montreal. They had such a joyful time together! One of the sisters who arrived last year had not seen Lemlem since she left Eritrea in 2003; they had spent 16 years apart!