Refugees arrive in St. Louis facing new country and culture — but can only stay at home

ST. LOUIS — After fleeing fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Desire Ndangamira spent 23 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda before arriving in St. Louis in March, just before the city shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Our journey to come to the U.S. was quite amazing,” Ndangamira, 47, said through a translator, adding that after arriving, “Our life was staying in the house, and not going out was really difficult.”

Ndangamira is one of 49 clients of the International Institute of St. Louis to begin their new lives that month in the city. Many spent years in refugee camps, awaiting word on whether they would be accepted in the U.S. After getting the good news and traveling thousands of miles, they found their adopted country was essentially shut down because of the pandemic. Their host, the International Institute, was closing or altering longstanding programs to comply with social distancing and other rules.


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