Brother and sister reunited in Windsor after escaping Burundi

After more than 10 years apart Albert Nsabiyumva and his sister reunited in Windsor.

'There is no better Christmas gift I would have got'

Albert Nsabiyumva waited for more than 10 years to see his sister and her family again. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

After two years of waiting and 10 years apart, a brother and sister have finally been reunited in Windsor.

Albert Nsabiyumva has been in Canada with is wife and four children since 2007. He escaped from Burundi after fearing for his safety in his homeland. He arrived in the United States then took a taxi to Windsor where he claimed refugee status at the border. 

After four and a half years in Canada, he and his family were finally given refugee status. Meanwhile, back in Burundi his sister and her family hoped Burundi would change for the better, but it only got worse.

"There was a lot of violence. They were killing people, especially children," she said. "If children escaped, they would torture and kill their parents. They raped women and young girls."

CBC has agreed to not reveal her face or name, because she fears for the safety of her remaining family in Burundi.

Albert Nsabiyumva's sister looks out the window of her home in Windsor. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Everything changed for her one night in 2015 when the police knocked on her door. 

"I saw the policemen at the door, so I screamed to my children, 'They're here! we have to run!' We hid behind the house and they didn't see us, but they took my husband. The next morning, I took my kids and left," she said.

She spent the night hiding behind the house with her children before fleeing Burundi. They travelled through difficult terrain to Rwanda, but were too afraid to stop in the villages to eat.

Their journey was not over when they arrived in Rwanda. The family chose to leave because it was still too close to home. Mother and children ended up in Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda.

"We were always afraid," she said.

The long wait

Back in Canada, Nsabiyumva and his family were about to become Canadian citizens. He kept in contact with his sister through conversations over WhatsApp. 

"I would try something, maybe I can sponsor your family, but I don't know how it will work out," he remembered telling her.

Albert Nsabiyumva speaks with his sister over the phone. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

It took three months for him to put together all the paperwork and submit it to Canadian immigration officials — a process Nsabiyumva said he would not have been able to navigate alone.

He was helped by the Windsor Refugee office, the Diocese of London refugee ministry and Matthew House, a service that helps newly arrived refugees find housing and settle into the community.

"Grace Baptist Church and my family, we co-sponsored the family of my sister," he explained.

After completing the paperwork, he still had to raise $32,500, which the church helped him with. 

"I could not make it alone," said Nsabiyumva.

Another hurdle was having his sister complete forms while living in the refugee camp. He said it could take days or weeks for her to receive and fill out the forms.

"Once we had all the information we made sure they were complying with what immigration Canada is looking for," said Nsabiyumva.

By March 2016, everything was submitted and Nsabiyumva began making sure everything in Windsor would be ready if his sister and her family were accepted. He searched for a place for them to live, clothing, furniture and looked for a school for his nieces and nephews. 

"Everything started to be put in place in July 2017, when we received a letter from immigration Canada appointing them to go for medical exam," he said. "So when we saw that we said 'Something is coming together.'"

Albert Nsabiyumva's nieces meet in the kitchen of their new home in Windsor. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

The family went for their medical exams, got vaccinations, and completed everything necessary to come to Canada. In December, they received their last vaccination and were told to gather up everything and be ready to go.

"At that point we knew everything was unfolding very quickly and it was exciting and also very stressful," Nsabiyumva said.

Arriving in Canada

The family landed in Canada on December 13, 2017.

"There is no better Christmas gift I would have got," he said. "Here we are with family that is out of danger, trying to make it out in Canada."

But Nsabiyumva still has family in Africa and said the situation is becoming "the worst".

"I can do what I can one step at a time. If it is a possibility I would bring them all here, but it's not something I can afford, but we will look at it later on,"  he said.

His sister and her family are experiencing something new, snow.

I'm happy! I'm happy!- Albert Nsabiyumva's sister

"For the first time they saw snow for real, not in movies or in books," Nsabiyumva said.

Burundi's weather averages around 25 C he said.

"It is a big change, but so far they're out of danger so they're excited," said Nsabiyumva.

Now his sister, her husband and her five children are in Windsor and going back to class. The children are enrolled in school and she and her husband will begin English language lessons. The family primarily speaks French, but Nsabiyumva said if you live in Windsor you must know English.

Although she has just started to learn English, Nsabiyumva's sister has already learned an important phrase. When asked how she feels to be in Canada, she said, "I'm happy! I'm happy!"