Brothers reunite after long refugee status wait
AFTER years spent wondering whether his brothers were safe or even alive in war-torn central Africa, Jean Claude Mapatano was reunited with his family here in Lismore last week.
Jean Claude arrived in Lismore as a refugee in 2009 with his wife Djidji Sanvura and soon after he began a search for his lost family.
"I had this feeling to be the dad, the responsible one ... that's why I had the courage to keep searching for other family members," he said.
Jean Claude was initially hesitant about his findings but after some more investigation it was confirmed that his two brothers, John and Amani Mapatano, were located near the border of Rwanda and their homeland the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"I wasn't sure if I was getting the correct information about them ... are they really the people who I'm looking for, or are they people similiar to our family?" Jean Claude said.
"I decided to go back to Uganda where I met Amani and John for the first time after more than 10 years."
They began the long process of rebuilding family ties, revisiting areas of their pasts that were difficult to think about.
Now, sitting side-by-side in Lismore, they think about when they last sat together as a complete family.
"Every single day after dinner we had to sit and have our dinner together with mum, everyone ... after that we had a very nice song that we had to sing together," Jean Claude said.
"My dad was a very good dad.
"He gave us a chance at education. We had the chance to go to school."
It took years of patience before John and Amani were granted refugee status in Australia, but in the meantime Lismore not-for-profit Sanctuary supported their education in Kenya.
John studied architecture and construction while Amani studied community development and social work.
Amani was also given the opportunity to work in a lodge owned by a man from Coroki.
"It was far away from Nairobi, it was an Australian lodge," Amani said.
"I think that's where I started to see that maybe Australia could be the next country I found a life.
"I worked peacefully with that guy from Australia ... they were good to me, and I can't forget about that."