Desperately Seeking Selam
By Barb Sweet | www.thetelegram.com | February 19, 2015
St. John’s woman expecting reunion with daughter who vanished in Libya four years ago
It remains Christmas at Genet Abraham’s small St. John’s apartment — the artificial tree still lit for a longed-for guest, a daughter who disappeared four years ago in Libya.
In early December, Abraham, an African refugee, got a call that made her collapse.
“After I talked to her, I realized it was my little girl,” Abraham told The Telegram Tuesday through interpreter Hagos Fessehaye, as she is still learning English.
Selam Measho, now 20, is believed to have been abducted or led away from a Libyan market four years ago and taken to Holland by a woman who claimed to Selam her family was killed.
“There is too much pain. … I was thinking my mother was dead, that I can’t find them anymore,” Selam said in a phone call Tuesday from a small community two hours outside Amsterdam. She has been studying to be a personal care attendant for seniors, but is now trying to reunite with her family here. “I couldn’t believe (I found her). I was just crying.”
The story of how the two were brought back together involves the Red Cross and a small group of parents, including St. John’s South Liberal MHA Tom Osborne, who met Abraham at St. Mary’s Elementary School, where Abraham’s youngest daughter goes, as well as a a woman who helped get posters to a little Dutch village.
The message was simple — a mother was desperately seeking her daughter.
The way isn’t quite clear yet for Selam to be reunited with her mother here, but news is coming soon from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and, by all accounts, success is expected.
But there’s also someone still missing — Selam’s father, who searched every day for his missing daughter, then a teenager who went to market to sell a thin Roti-type bread her mother had made to help make money for the family. They were then in the midst of a journey to a hoped-for better life after leaving Eritrea in East Africa.
The family tried asking for help to find the vanished teenager in Libya, but it was futile, Abraham said through Fessehaye.
“No one could help. Everyone was busy just trying to protect themselves,” Abraham said.
Two months after their daughter disappeared, the father, Measho Tsfaslasse, also went missing without a trace.
That left Genet Abraham, travelling with barely any food or water, to make a month-long journey across a desert from Libya to Chad on foot and by a crowded bus with two small children, Milka, now 13, and Feban, now 8. (Abraham lost another child to sudden death at age five and has an adult daughter who is married and remains in Africa.)
“It was an horrendous journey,” Fessehaye translated.
In Cameroon, Abraham heard a rumour her husband was dead, but no one really knows Measho Tsfaslasse’s fate.
Abraham and the little girls made it to Canada in April 2013.
Through Fessehaye Tuesday, Abraham shared her ordeal, sobbing as she watched a video again of her reconnection by phone with Selam.
Susan Glynn has been helping the family and worked with Selam to put together her documentation and immigration paperwork.
Other parents from the school — Denise and Barry Dunne — also helped and offered to buy a plane ticket for Salem to come to St. John’s once she gets medical clearance from immigration authorities. A local lawyer, who also has a child at St. Mary’s, a classmate of Feban’s, has offered this services.
Glynn calls the story a miracle, one rooted in Abraham’s Christian faith and helped along by the team that pitched in to tackle the process. She said when she met Abraham, she asked for help to find her daughter.
“It was like a needle in a haystack,” Glynn said, who has become close to the family.
Selam had spent three years in a refugee camp after going to police when she was abandoned by the woman who led her to Holland.
Another St. John’s woman, Gudrun Williams, had contacted the Red Cross and helped get posters to the town of Drachtn, where volunteers circulated the image of Abraham and the plea, “Eritrea, I am looking for my daughter.”
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne credits St. John’s South MHA Tom Osborne with bringing Abraham’s story to the federal level and Glynn for helping put the proper paperwork together.
Byrne also contacted Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who recognized the urgency of helping the family.
There are tens of thousands of immigration cases, but few like Abraham’s story, said Byrne.
Osborne said the process could have taken up to two years, but was helped along quickly since December with all who became involved and were touched by the story.
“Everything is lining up,” he said.
Osborne is now trying to get the family a unit in Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, as their tiny apartment doesn’t have enough bedrooms.
2011 African born teenager Selam Measho goes missing from Libya. Two months later, her father vanishes while looking for her.
2013 Her distraught mother, Genet Abraham, makes it to Canada with two little daughters.
Dec. 3, 2014 Abraham hears from Selam, who has been found in Holland.
Click to watch video