Rwandan Refugees Becoming Americans

By: Beth Shayne
By: Beth Shayne

"To be a man without an identity."

That's how Michel Kanakuze describes life as a refugee. He, his wife Berthilde and their 7 children escaped to Lansing from a ravaged Rwanda in the 1990s.

It's in story in hollywood headlines now with the release of the hit movie, Hotel Rwanda.

In simple terms, the country's president was killed, and the world watched as a vicious civil war killed nearly a million more.

Berthilde and Michel left their home in Butare fearing for their life. Berthilde was pregnant with their 7th child. They walked across the country, and then to the border....finally, selling everything they had for a boatride out. They lived 3 months in a camp in Zaire. Starving, and sick they finally found a sponsor to get them to west Africa, where they spent three years before finally accepting what they call their fate.

"We never thought we'd be in Zaire, we never thought we'd be in Senegal, we never thought we'd be in America," Michel explains.

They've lived in Lansing now for 7 years, but citizenship brings with it identity, they say, and the option to get a passport, a ticket to visit home.


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