Bantu Refugees Adjust to New Lives in America

Rukiya Sheygo holds her newborn baby, Abukar.

hide captionAfter arriving in South Carolina a year ago, Rukiya Sheygo has been doing custodial work at Columbia College. Above, she's pictured with her newborn son, Abukar.

Petra Mayer, NPR
Health class i i

hide captionAt a weekly health education class in Columbia, S.C., the Bantu attend discussions on sickle cell anemia, nutrition and family planning.

Petra Mayer, NPR
Health class

At a weekly health education class in Columbia, S.C., the Bantu attend discussions on sickle cell anemia, nutrition and family planning.

Petra Mayer, NPR

Listen: <b>Web Extra</b>: Abdulkadir Mohammed, the first Somali Bantu who arrived in Columbia, South Carolina, talks about his first impressions in America.

The Bantus of Somalia are a long way from home. Originally from Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, they were captured two centuries ago and sold as slaves in Somalia. When that country collapsed into civil war in 1991, thousands of Bantu fled across the border to refugee camps in Kenya. Last year, they began their longest journey yet — across the ocean to America.

Abdikadir Ali, Sheygo's husband.

hide captionSheygo's husband, Abdikadir Ali, says that the feeling of security is what has struck him the most about America. The hardest part has been the high cost of living.

Petra Mayer, NPR

Listen: <b>Web Extra</b>: Through a translator, Abdikadir Ali speaks about security in America.

The decision to bring the Bantu to the U.S. was controversial. The State Department agreed to the relocation only after efforts to settle them within Africa failed. Even refugee advocates worried privately if it was right to throw the rural farmers — who had virtually no knowledge of Western culture — directly into American society.

More than 11,000 Somali Bantus have arrived so far and the effort to integrate them is demanding generosity, dedication and creativity from whole communities. NPR's Jennifer Ludden visited Columbia, S.C., where 22 Bantu families are trying to build a new life.

This story was produced by NPR's Petra Mayer.

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