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Congolese Refugee Family Coming to St. Louis Arrested in Church, Detained in Kenya

Categories: News

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Photos courtesy of Imuhira International
Kenyan government officials round up Congolese refugees and take them to prison camps.
Congolese refugee Justin Semahoro Kimenyerwa thought he was close to bringing his sister and brother's families over to St. Louis.

They'd already escaped genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo and lived as refugees in Kenya. After five years, Kimenyerwa's family was preparing for the final step in their emigration process: two last interviews with the U.S. Embassy.

But the Kenyan government changed that when officers rounded up 200 members of Kimenyerwa's tribe, the Banyamulenge -- including Kimenyerwa's sister, her husband, her teenage children, his brother and his wife -- and took them to a detention camp with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their Bibles.

Kenya Refugee Crisis: Justin's Family from Michael Ramsey on Vimeo.

"They are in a very dangerous situation," Kimenyerwa tells Daily RFT. "They were not being fed. They had no bathrooms. It is really, really, really hot, and the water is salty. They can't drink it. They only eat plain spaghetti or plain rice."

See also: Slain Refugee Mon Rai's Heartbreaking Essay About St. Louis: "My Heart Was Full Of Hopes"

But the real threat isn't starvation, dehydration or illness. It's the extremist group al-Shabaab, who want to kill Kimenyerwa's tribe, which is also known as the Bayamulenge, because of their Christian faith and Tutsi ethnicity.

Extremists have already massacred more than 300 Banyamulenge detainees in camps in Burundi and Rwanda. Detainees in the camps say seven people have already died as officials mix the Banyamulenge with Hutu from Burundi and al-Shabaab people.

Kimenyerwa and supporters launched an online petition asking the Kenyan government to release the Banyamulenge people before they are massacred again. After a little more than a week, the petition has just over 760 signatures from all over the world.

Supporters are also posting updates, photos and videos on a Facebook page called Kenya Refugee Crisis.

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Refugees in the camp don't have access to water or sleeping bags, Kimenyerwa says.
"We are the Banyamulenge community, and it makes no sense for us to go to the camp because our enemies kill us in the camp," Kimenyerwa says. "Al-Shabab told them they would attack them in the camp. An official [in the camp] told them, 'I won't allow you to pray because al-Shabaab knows that you are here, and they can attack you anytime.'"

Al-Shabaab, an extremist Muslim terrorist cell with ties to al-Qaeda, is best known for a bus bombing in 2012, the shopping-mall massacre in Nairobi in 2013 and recently opening fire in a church in Mombasa.

Kimenyerwa arrived in St. Louis in 2008 trying to escape ethnic violence in Congo. He didn't know anyone in the U.S., so immigration officials plopped him in St. Louis.

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Detainees wait in camps to be freed by the Kenyan government...or killed by extremists.
Ever since then, Kimenyerwa has supported his family in Africa financially and worked to bring them to St. Louis to join him. In the meantime, he has founded an organization, Imuhira International, to advocate for his people.

"My community and my family, they are being very mistreated and treated poorly," Kimenyerwa says. "That's very dangerous because people who want to kill Banyamulenge can attack them any time in their own camp."

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at Lindsay.Toler@RiverfrontTimes.com.


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