'Hope for life': Ottawa church welcomes Congolese refugees

'Hope for life': Ottawa church welcomes Congolese refugees

An Ottawa congregation has sponsored 28 people fleeing ongoing violence in Congo to come here, reuniting families that have been separated for years.

"It's been very difficult for us," said Nova Musafiri, a former Congolese refugee who came to Canada a decade ago. Twelve of the newcomers who arrived by plane Tuesday are Musafiri's relatives, some of whom he hasn't seen since they were babies.

"I haven't seen them for 23 years," he said.

Congo has a long, bloody history of civil conflict, with hundreds killed in tribal violence divided along ethnic lines late last year. 

More than five million Congolese have been forced to leave their homes, according to the United Nations. Nearly 10,000 have fled to neighbouring Burundi to await uncertain futures in overcrowded refugee camps.

"We had a long time there," said one of the newcomers Tuesday. "And now, today, God has permitted us to come here. I don't know what to say, but I am very glad." 

Sandra Abma/CBC

The local branch of Grace Communion International church, in partnership with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, has brought 300 refugees to Canada, including more than 100 Syrians. 

"We help resettle them and cover the costs of the first year," said Fraser Henderson, a member of the church.

Often, they do that with the help of family members who are already here.

'Hope of life'

It was an emotional scene as the refugees arrived at the Ottawa International Airport.

One of the first to descend the airport's escalators was a young girl who ran to the church's pastor for a hug. 

Musafiri said his step-mother was killed in Congo, but her daughter — his step-sister — has now arrived to begin a new life.

"I can see that there's hope for them, hope for life," he said.