May 25, 2009

"... For my country, for my people, it is very painful still.” Shiferawu Lemu

City man’s dream of becoming a Canadian about to come true
DAMIEN WOOD - Herald-Tribune staff

After fleeing his home country of Ethiopia, fearing jail or death, and coming to Canada to start a new life, Shiferaw Lemu will officially become a Canadian citizen Wednesday.

Damien Wood

A little over four years ago, Shiferaw Lemu was getting off a plane at Grande Prairie airport, unsure of what he would find.

He found members of St. Paul’s United Church waiting for him with flowers and he knew then he had found a new home.

On Wednesday, the long journey he started then will be completed when he becomes a Canadian citizen.

Lemu was born in Oromiya, Ethiopia – a place where his people came to be treated in horrific ways by the ruling government.

He said there is no peace there – none of the basic human rights to which we would not give a second thought.

“That country is controlled by gangsters. I can’t say government ... those who come to power is by guns. No human right is respected. If you ask for human right, you will be jailed ... or you will be killed,” said Lemu.

Over the last four years, he has gone from his early jobs in Canada at Home Depot, Superstore, Wal-Mart and the bingo hall to running Towne Centre Laundry, a business of his own.

It was not an opportunity he was going to have in Ethiopia – the way it is now.

“If you work hard, you will get everything here ... I worked hard,” said Lemu.

His final days in the country in which he was raised were spent on the run from the authorities. Lemu is Oromo, and he said that alone makes him a criminal.

He had been arrested previously, accused of aiding the Oromo Liberation Front – a group of nationalists labelled as terrorists.

Twenty days underground without food or water was the price paid, he said, for this perceived crime he insists he did not commit.

He said he had helped the OLF before, though not on this occasion.

“They come to arrest me (again), but I run away ... I never went back,” said Lemu.

“They will kill me (if I go back).”

He fled to Nairobi, Kenya, where as he puts it, he gave his hand to the United Nations.

He was given a visa to come to Canada, sponsored by St. Paul’s United Church.

But to run, Lemu had to leave his family behind.

When he got here, he started working for them to be able to make the same trek across the globe he did.

“The process doesn’t finish quickly. When I come to Canada, the Canadian embassy at Nairobi promised they would collect them within the year ... to come to Canada,” said Lemu.

It would be three years before this could become reality.

They did make it though, and now Lemu’s wife, Mulunesh Taye Nagry and three of his six children are with him. Three other adult children remain in Ethiopia. His family will see him as he takes oath and is sworn in as a Canadian citizen this week.

He said his journey felt complete a week ago though, when he got his paperwork from the Canadian government in the mail.

“I was very happy,” said Lemu, but added he realizes this is just one journey completed.

“For myself – only for myself. For my country, for my people, it is very painful still.”

He said he wants to see peace and democracy brought to his old country, through the work of his new country and his community.

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