Darfur Crisis Hits Home in Indiana

Even after getting separated from his family, Kimo continued to fight the Janjaweed. He was hired by the Coalition for International Justice, a nonprofit organization that supports international war-crimes tribunals and justice initiatives, to document the atrocities. Some of the evidence he compiled was cited by former Secretary of State Colin Powell when he called the crisis "genocide" in 2004.

A Darfuri Enclave

For nearly two years, Kimo has been separated from his father, wife and now 3-year-old son. He is in the United States, living with his uncle and learning to be part of a community in Fort Wayne, Ind. The U.S. government insists that he is not eligible for asylum because he now has a Chadian passport, Kimo said, and he has to wait a year for another hearing.

Kimo is essentially a refugee, generally meaning a person who has crossed international borders to escape oppression. Refugee has a very technical meaning to the U.S. government, which grants thousands of people the status each year.

According to Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration spokeswoman Gina Wills, the United States identifies certain people around the world who are eligible to be resettled here as refugees. Kimo, on the other hand, came to America first and now has thrown himself on the mercy of the court.

"In order to seek asylum they have to be here, and then they apply to be a refugee," Wills said.

The process is never guaranteed.

Although Kimo is a college-educated farmer, he cannot get a work permit because of his status. He came with a student visa, but could not afford $25,000 for Indiana University and it expired. He hopes that once he gets asylum, he can work and at least send money home to his family.

"Just I'm waiting," he said. "What can I do?"

The congregation of Darfurians in Fort Wayne prompted Sulimon Giddo to select it as the headquarters of the nonprofit Darfur Peace and Development.

This small Midwestern city appeals to immigrant populations because it is "family friendly" and is surrounded by factories, including a General Motors Corp. assembly plant that, despite the company's troubles, recently added 200 jobs.

The city, which is surprisingly diverse, is also home to Catholic Charities, which has been resettling refugees in the area for more than 30 years. The Darfurians are not refugees, and usually come to Fort Wayne after first settling somewhere else, but they are drawn to the city's immigrant-friendly environment.

The Rev. Joe Johns, pastor at the Fellowship Missionary Church, has tried to educate the community about the Darfur crisis. Fort Wayne churches have held rallies for peace in Darfur, and Johns has traveled twice to the war-torn region.

"More so in our congregation, people can see the idea. They see clearly that these people in our community need help," said Johns, who led his church's effort to raise $90,000 in aid for the people of Darfur. "The problem is knowing just what to do."

Johns recently returned from a 10-day trip to Darfur and met with Kimo's ailing father who had just undergone surgery for kidney stones. Kimo's wife and child were living in Khartoum.

Johns explained how Kimo was doing and brought documents from Kimo's lawyer for the father to sign to corroborate Kimo's story in his petition for asylum.

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