From the day he was born, Caliton Ntahompagaze was a refugee. The label was an insult in Africa, he said.
Then he arrived May 25 in the United States. Here, the 31-year-old is called a “new American.”
“That made me to be (proud) and to be glad,” said Ntahompagaze, who now lives in a sparsely furnished West Fargo apartment with his wife and 19-month-old daughter.
He is one of about 50 Burundian refugees being resettled here in the coming weeks from Tanzanian refugee camps.
They are referred to by the United Nations as the “1972 Burundians” for the year they fled their homeland. Most have never lived in Burundi.
Because life in the refugee camps in Tanzania was rather primitive, Lutheran Social Services is looking for volunteer mentors to help them adjust to modern amenities and life here, said Darci Asche, New American Services community liaison with LSS of North Dakota.
Many have never cooked in a modern kitchen or used a telephone, she said.
“It’s really stepping forward in time 35 years,” Asche said. “What would we encounter if we transported into the future 35 years from now?”
She thinks of her own experience using an ATM for the first time, realizing that’s only a taste of what these new Americans will experience.
Most of the 1972 Burundians are of Hutu ethnicity who fled after a campaign of violence by the Tutsi-dominated government that year killed about 200,000. About 150,000 Burundians escaped to Rwanda, Tanzania and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the Cultural Orientation Resource Center.
About 9,000 1972 Burundians are being resettled in the United States after 35 years of exile.