Former political prisoner works with Sask. teen to bring African refugees to Canada

·2 min read

A former refugee and a Saskatoon teenager are working together to help African families escape persecution.

"It's important to work with people who know the issues and know what's needed," Eric James, 17, said.

Several years ago, Fulgence Ndagijimana was imprisoned for his religious beliefs in his native Burundi. A group of people in Saskatoon worked hard to secure his release through fundraising, a letter-writing campaign and other advocacy.

One of those people was Eric James, who was just 12 years old at the time. He created and maintained a website, which attracted more than 1,200 signatures calling for Ndagijimana's release.

"I felt like it was appalling. It was not right. It shouldn't happen," James said. "As a 12-year-old, I didn't have a great understanding of why it was happening. I just felt that it shouldn't."

Ndagijimana was eventually released and resettled in Saskatoon. He recently moved to Ottawa and is continuing his studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

But he hasn't forgotten what it felt like in prison, and to have that surge of support from hundreds of strangers halfway around the world. That's why he and James are now fighting to bring other refugee families to Canada.

James and Ndagijimana have raised more than $30,000 so far. Once they raise another $5,000, an anonymous donor has agreed to match it.

Submitted by Liz James
Submitted by Liz James

They will apply to the Canadian government to bring a family of six refugees to Canada.

"I'm thankful I'm alive," Ndagijimana said. "I want to do something positive and helpful with my life for others. I felt the same thing from many thousands of other people."

The charity he founded, Flaming Chalice International, helps refugees to resettle, but also helps those stuck in refugee camps or other precarious situations.

"When I was released [from prison], I felt a renewed sense of purpose," Ndagijimana said.

"To have someone like Eric helping me, someone so young — that gives me hope."