Finding Refuge: Abdoul Havugimana

The government's effort to stop refugees from coming into the U.S. comes at a point when there are more refugees displaced around the world than at any time in history.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - More than 65 million people worldwide currently area displaced from their homes -- that's more than any other time in history.

Last year, 84,994 refugees resettled in the United States, with 5,039 of them here in Michigan.

During the next five days, WZZM 13 is going to share stories of refugees who have resettled here. We recognize this is a controversial topic and many people feel strongly about limiting the practice of bringing refugees to the U.S., something only the Department of State is authorized to do.

Organizations, including Bethany Christian Services, work with resettlement agencies to provide services and training to adjust to life in the U.S. once they arrive.

We want to point out that all five of the individuals we spoke with came to this country before President Donald Trump's travel order was signed. A revised version currently is held up in the courts.

Our goal is to simply introduce you to these people who are already living as our neighbors in West Michigan.

WZZM 13's Meredith TerHaar begins the series with Abdoul Havugimana, a senior at Calvin College. He is studying political science and international relations, with plans to attend law school.

He came to the U.S. five years ago from Rwanda, where he was a refugee with his brother and grandmother. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he lost both of his parents to the Civil War when he was just 4 years old.

Now thriving in the U.S., he's set his sights on becoming a judge.

"There is a lot of injustice happening today towards humanity," Havugimana said. Because of what he saw while living as a refugee in Rwanda, Havugimana is driven to protect women and children. "There are a lot of violences and abuses towards them.

"Seeing that while I was growing up, I could not handle it."

That's why the Calvin College senior is planning to study law and one day become a judge. He is setting goals for the future, something he says he never would have done while living as a refugee.

"Living in a refugee camp in Rwanda, it was very tough -- you live to the point that you have no hope for tomorrow," Havugimana said. "You live to the point wondering, I ate once today, am I going to eat tomorrow? 

"Or tomorrow is my last day on this Earth?"

When given the possibility of asylum in a third country, he and his brother took the chance, not knowing where they would end up, since refugees aren't given a choice. Each country determines which refugees they will resettle.

That is when the vetting process began.  

"Screening, interviews, a lot of medical testing," explains Havugimana. "And then at the end of the day, in August of 2011, that's when I was introduced that I was going to come here to the United States."

The U.S. vetting process takes longer than other destinations. In Abdoul's, case it was nearly 3 years.

"I always wonder why does it take less time to get to the U.K. or Finland? What is so different about it? I came to learn it is for security or safety for all Americans or other people who might live here in the United States," he said.

Once in the states, Bethany Christian Services placed he and his brother with a foster family.

"Me coming here to the United States, it has been a blessing," Havugimana said. "It has been a new life for me."

A new life filled with purpose --  "Really my goal is to serve humanity," and a message: "Refugees, we are not a burden," Havugimana said.

"We came here to the United States to contribute to the lives of Americans. We want to live in this place with harmony. We want to live in this place with peace. Again, I left Congo, I came here seeking for peace. My goal was not to come and destroy the peace I found here, my goal was to come and contribute to it."

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