Posted on September 12, 2007

African Gangster Will Be Reformed: Mother

Winnipeg Free Press

The headlines about young African refugees being deported for committing crimes don’t tell the whole story, says the mother of one young man facing deportation.

Elizabeth Aluk expected great things from the first son born to her and her husband in their village in southern Sudan, so they named him Mandela.

When they arrived in Winnipeg as refugees nine years ago and Mandela Kuet was a little boy, it was a dream come true. Now Kuet, 22, faces deportation back to Sudan because he has a criminal record.

Aluk agreed to talk to the Free Press because she wants people to know that it was never supposed to end up like this.

“We’re not here to harm — we appreciate Canada, and it’s good when we can come together,” said the 43-year-old woman with five children who now works with recent newcomers helping them avoid the pitfalls. The former primary school teacher from the southern Sudan village of Rumbek said they hit the ground running when they arrived in Winnipeg as refugees in 1998.

Within the first year she had a job at Palliser Furniture, doing shift work on weekends and evenings. She worked part time at a second job as well.

“It was hard but I was happy. I’m working, earning something, I feel I’m somebody supporting my family, “ she said. “I have a big family here and I was supporting my family back home,” she said during an interview in the tidy North End home they’ve lived in since their arrival.

At that time, there was no talk of “African gangs” or much in the way of services for war-affected families starting to arrive here.

She had no idea that one of her kids would end up in a worse predicament in Winnipeg than he ever faced as a refugee fleeing Sudan or scraping by in Cairo, Egypt.

“For me as a mother here, I faced the challenge of ‘you don’t know who is around.’“

Mandela and his dad argued. The teenager rebelled, and when he turned 18 his dad kicked him out of the house, Aluk said.

“He ended up in the wrong crowd . . . Those people were there waiting for him like a lion.”

When Kuet was among a handful African refugees issued a deportation order in Winnipeg this year, his mother was stunned.

“He’s not a fighter. He was smart in school. He’s kind with a soft heart.”

Aluk said she went “crazy” — unable to sleep and a zombie at work, ruining 300 units of furniture, mindlessly drilling holes where they didn’t belong.

Kuet’s crimes — possession of a weapon and personation — are two Criminal Code violations that make him “inadmissible” to Canada.

His immigration lawyer said he’s eligible to appeal it because he is a Canadian permanent resident whose prison sentence was two years less a day.

Things such as strong family ties, overcoming the problems that landed them in jail in the first place and a work ethic are some of the factors they can look at, Edward Rice said.

“It’s like putting someone in the desert,” Aluk said of sending her son to the devastated country he left as a little boy.

He’s waiting for his release from jail in Headingley in November then planning to work at a factory in south Winnipeg and appeal his deportation order.

“He has a chance to change,” Aluk said. Meanwhile, she’s taking advantage of a second chance for herself.

She’s going to school to get her Canadian high school equivalency while she’s laid off from Palliser. She works part time for Manitoba’s largest refugee settlement agency Welcome Place helping Sudanese newcomers avoid the pitfalls she knows all too well.

“I don’t have the money to buy my kids bling, bling, bling,” she said. Lacking spending money for extras and a sense of belonging, refugee kids are seen as easy targets by criminals.

“There are a lot of problems with drugs and gangs,” she said. “These things are growing . . . We can do something as parents.”

Now separated from her husband, Aluk said she’s keeping a close eye on her children and helping to raise three of her younger brothers and an in-law’s niece. Some of them are taking part in an after-school program offered to at-risk kids by the NEEDS Centre for War Affected Families.

“When we were newcomers, we didn’t get these kinds of services with life skills. I want to help my people . . . Back home everybody takes care of everybody. I know there’s nobody who’s going to help me in this mess.”

Nobody comes this far to throw it all away, Aluk said.

“I’m sorry for the choices some of our children are making. But I believe Mandela one day will restore himself. I will support him to the end of my life.”