Originally from the remote southwestern region of Gambella in Ethiopia, Peter Ojullu fled the country after 400 members of his tribe were massacred in December 2003. According to Human Rights Watch, the deaths were followed by military attacks on villages that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and left several dozen more villagers dead.
Ojullu, who is in his early 30s, recalls the majority of the deaths were of young males in his tribe, putting him in the crosshairs. He fled in 2004, first to a refugee camp in Sudan and then to another camp in Kenya, where he lived for 11 years.
It was at the camp in Kenya where he started his family, marrying and eventually having three children — a son and two daughters. However, when his youngest daughter was 6 months old, Ojullu’s wife died in the camp they had called home for nearly a decade.
By that time, he already had sought approval to come to the United States. After a five-year wait, he received permission in 2014 to begin the two-year process to be relocated.
While his father remained in Ethiopia, his mother was helping him raise his children in the refugee camp. That connection would be severed with his move to America.
“There was no way to let her be part of the opportunity,” he said, noting Catholic Charities tried, but the process of adding her to his small family was too difficult.
Later, following two extensive interviews in Nairobi, Kenya, he said he was given the chance to return to the refugee camp and start over to include a sister, but the process was daunting, and he opted to face his new challenge alone.
He said he doubts his sister or mother will return to their home country. “Even now, life is not good in Ethiopia,” he said.