Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Political refugees filled with hope for fresh start

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They're a refugee couple from Equatorial Guinea who can't always afford milk or fruit for their five children.

They keep their kids away from school activities that require supplies they don't have.

But, after overcoming jail and political persecution, 43-year-old Alberto Ntutumu and his 28-year-old wife, Remedia Ayingono, say they hope their lives will get better in Winnipeg.

The couple and their young children are trying to make ends meet on the less than $800 per month they have after paying rent.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps collect donations for the family, who speak no English and are adjusting to life in Canada.

"I have a hope here because I am still alive," said Ntutumu, through Spanish translator Fredy Perez, who works at the immigration council as a volunteer services/settlement counsellor.

"I feel proud to be here. Even when I was a little boy, my dream was to come to Canada or the United States to get some education in these countries. I never imagined here."

The Fang-speaking couple and their five children -- Emilia, 8, Maria Rosa, 6, Rafael, 4, Maria Joaquina, 2, and two-month-old Candida -- have been in Winnipeg since June.

They live a meagre existence in an Elmwood apartment that costs $995 per month.

Neither Ntutumu nor his wife are working, but both want to learn English and find jobs.

Ntutumu had to leave Equatorial Guinea in October 2010 after he was accused of helping a member of the opposition political party and feared for his life.

The country has an unemployment rate of more than 22 per cent and non-profit Human Rights Watch says the country is "mired in corruption, poverty and repression" while its government "regularly engages in torture and arbitrary detention."

After Ntutumu had to flee, Ayingono and one of the couple's children were jailed for two weeks before being freed.

Ayingono was threatened with injury if political unrest occurred. The two were separated for a year.

"I felt very guilty, I felt very bad, thinking about my family all the time," said Ntutumu.

Five of Ntutumu's family members, including his two brothers and two sisters, were also jailed.

In November 2011, the couple and their children reunited in Cameroon before they made their way to Canada.

They're trying to build a life for themselves and their children in Winnipeg, despite financial hurdles.

An already tight budget is stretched further because Ntutumu has a loan of about $10,000 he owes to the federal government for medical exams and overseas air tickets.

Meanwhile, Ayingono said the family needs things like a large crib and a vacuum.

"We have no other choice... we have to manage what we have," said Ntutumu. "With all that we get, I think we (manage) to do stuff, but when we go to see the doctor, they suggest strongly to us that we have to have milk every day, and we cannot afford (it).

"They recommend we have a lot of fruits, and the same, we cannot afford it."

Decorations at the family home are few and far between, but statues Ntutumu has carved stand in a closet.

Part of the financial barriers the family face are because they're not permanent residents of Canada and ineligible for the national child tax benefit, said Carlos Vialard, the immigration council's settlement service co-manager. Vialard said they're still probably about two or three months from receiving the child tax benefit.

"A large part of their capacity to subsist at the most basic level is missing," said Vialard.

Donations to the family can be made by cheque to the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council. They can be dropped off or sent to Carlos Vialard at Welcome Place, 521 Bannatyne Ave., Winnipeg, Man., R3A 0E4.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 B2

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