Congolese refugee shares experience, reflects on journey to Lexington

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Posted at 11:19 AM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 11:19:47-04

As thousands of Afghan refugees attempt to relocate after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, we’re learning more about the refugee experience from one young man in Lexington.

23-year-old Ibrahim Baraka arrived in the United States in 2017, after spending 12 years in a refugee camp in Uganda. Baraka was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but violence and unrest forced the family from their home country when he was just four years old. Baraka and his nine siblings grew up in the camp. He says his family often went hungry, and medical care was scarce.

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“I would say my parents are strong and resilient,” Baraka told LEX 18.

Their resilience paid off when the family learned the American government would help them resettle in Kentucky. They first landed in Arizona, where they spent less than a year.

“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is amazing,” Baraka said. “At this point, I was like, ‘Wow, I can achieve my dream, which is to have a better life and go to school.’”

Baraka learned English, graduated from Tates Creek High School, and is now studying to become an EMT. He’s inspired by his childhood best friend, who Baraka says died as a young man in the refugee camp when doctors could not reach him fast enough during a medical episode.

“I want to be an EMT, so I can go back home and support as many people as I can,” he said.

His life in America is drastically different, which is why Baraka wants to pay it forward. He even started his own organization for orphaned children in the Congo, Baraka Africa’s Compassion.

“I support them with a little money, for food, and a place to stay,” he said.

As Baraka looks at recent images from Afghanistan, he also sees his own journey to a new home. From 2015 to 2019, more than 1,200 refugees moved to Lexington. Just like the Baraka family, the majority were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the Kentucky Office for Refugees.

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“When I see all those people, I feel their pain,” Baraka said. “When you see people who want to move to a different country, it's not because they want to. It's because they need help.”

He hopes if Afghan refugees move to the U.S. or even the Commonwealth, they will feel the same way he did when he arrived on American soil.

“If they have the opportunity to come to the United States, they’re going to have a chance to go to school and they will learn better,” he said. “All I can say to them is really, we love them, and they’re more than welcome.”