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A long journey to a new home

After 12 years in refugee camp, Liberian family starts new life in East Kootenay
Shauna and Edith at the Canadian Rockies International Airport

Barry Coulter

A desperate situation of more than a dozen years has come to an end for one woman and her family, and a new chapter begun in Canada.

Members of the East Kootenay Friends of Burma and Fernie Friends of Refugees welcomed a family of 11 at the Canadian Rockies International Airport on Friday afternoon, April 22. The mother Edith, and her eight children and two grand-children, are starting a new life in Fernie after 12 years in a refugee camp in Ghana, Africa.

Originally from the African country of Liberia, Edith's family was victimized during the second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003), a conflict during which her husband was murdered. Emily fled the country with her family, and ended up in a refugee camp in Ghana.

It was in this camp that Edith met Shauna Jimenez, of the East Kootenay Friends of Burma.

"I meet her for a brief period in 2012," Jiminez said. "(Ghana) had began cutting off food supplies to the camp, and at one point even offered its occupants the equivalent of $1,000 to just get out of the camp and go away.

"She wrote to me," Jimenez said, "and asked if she should take that thousand bucks."

But the then only recently formed Fernie Friends of Refugees had expressed an eagerness to sponsor somebody, and Jimenez offered Edith's name and situation.

"And while they've been waiting the three years since we filled out the papers, they've already sponsored another Congolese lady and a few Eritreans, and other people the government processes quicker," Jimenez said. "Three years is about the average time to get a refugee over to Canada from an African nation.

Jiminez says the world has forgotten about the "protracted refugees" — the word for those who've been living in refugee camps for over 10 years.

"There are 14 million refugees, but the world has kind of forgotten about those guys because the spotlight is on the Syrians.

"Yes, there are Syrians — there are Liberians, there are Congolese, there's Burmese. There are lots of refugees from around the world."

In the meantime, Edith and her family are transitioning well to their new life in Fernie.

"So far they are loving being here, are very eager to start school, join sports teams and gain employment," said Brittany Loberg, with Fernie Friends of Refugees. "Fernie has proved itself in the past to be a welcoming and supportive place for refugees to rebuild their lives.  We are very optimistic that they will thrive in our community."

With files from

Leah Scheitel