Local immigrant shelter notes increase in African refugees

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Japhet left Nigeria in hopes of having a better life. He left his wife, family and friends behind and ended up in an immigration detention center, where he heard about Casa Marianella.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

When Japhet left Nigeria, he was running for his life.

“After I ran, I was just moving from place to place,” Japhet said. “I was miserable. I didn’t know what to do, the only thing to do was to go very far. Right now, I’m just trying to put my life together.”

In Kogi, Nigeria, he said government corruption was so severe, he felt his only option was to flee.

“The whole world is corrupt,” Japhet said. “It just depends on the way you handle your corruption. My country is the most corrupt country in the world. There’s no fuel [and] there’s an increase in the cost of food items. Everything is in pretty bad shape right now.”

Japhet relocated around Africa but eventually left the continent all together, traveling to Mexico in the hopes of being granted asylum at the border. In the immigration detention center, Japhet said someone told him about Casa Marianella, the shelter he’s called home since February.

When the shelter was founded in 1986, its primary residents were Central Americans fleeing civil war. Thirty years later, the shelter, which serves recently-arrived immigrants and asylum-seekers from around the world, has reported that its Central American residents are now in the minority. In March, it announced in a blog post that more than half of their residents were from Africa.

The largest number of residents come from Eritrea, an East African country that Casa director Jennifer Long said most people have never heard of. The vast majority of them often hear about Casa in detention centers the way Japhet did.

Though the shelter is just a temporary home for its residents, Long said while the residents are at Casa, they all get used to working together and feeding the other members of the house.

“It’s really an amazing thing about Casa that people really get along with each other in spite of a lot of diversity,” Long said.

When he left Nigeria, Japhet left behind his wife of four years.

“I wish she could come over,” Japhet said. “I talk to her every day. I don’t know what to do because she’s too far. I don’t know when I’ll see her again.”

He said his mother and his siblings are happy now that he’s here, but he misses going out and seeing the friends and family he spent his days with.

“When you leave people behind, you leave a part of your heart,” Japhet said. “You leave your life behind — people you see every day, people who make you smile.”

Right now, Japhet said he just wants to focus on going back to school. He has a love for math and psychics but said his real passion is teaching.

“If I had money, I would go back to school this year,” Japhet said. “I want to teach at a high institution and get my master’s and Ph.D..”

In the meantime, he said he’s thankful to be safe here in Austin.

“Casa has been my family and my home,” Japhet said. “Now I’m happy and I have friends and a job. Life here is easier and sweeter.”