Refugee from Rwanda killed in crash in south Fort Worth

Posted Friday, Mar. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
A

Funeral

10 a.m. today at New Hope Church, 3122 S. Clack St., Abilene

Definitions

Asylee

A person in the United States who can't return to his or her homeland because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Refugee

A person outside his or her homeland who is allowed into the United States because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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FORT WORTH -- Emmanuel Mutunzi came to America in 2007 and became a leader among African refugees seeking to rebuild their lives after fleeing ethnic discrimination and political persecution in Rwanda.

A resident of Abilene, where he had recently been joined by his wife and five children, Mutunzi traveled to Fort Worth on March 9 to help members of the Congolese-Rwandan community plan a traditional African wedding.

But during a storm that evening, Mutunzi was killed in a car wreck.

Dozens of people from Congolese-Rwandan communities in Texas and Iowa were expected to travel to Abilene for his funeral today.

Both states have drawn waves of immigrants and refugees from Africa.

"He was an important person in the community," said Eugene Kiruhura, a nephew living in Des Moines, Iowa. "He was a nice, nice person."

Kiruhura said people are searching for ways to help Mutunzi's wife and children, who speak little English and have few resources.

Their efforts include asking for donations on Facebook to help with funeral costs.

"It was so hard for the community," Kiruhura said.

"The family, they don't know anything about the United States. It is so sad."

Mutunzi, 47, was a back-seat passenger in a three-vehicle collision in the 5500 block of McCart Avenue.

An SUV heading south on McCart about 8:20 p.m. was rear-ended by the car Mutunzi was in, police said.

The SUV had stopped at a red light at Walton Avenue.

A pickup then crashed into the car, crushing it between the two vehicles.

Mutunzi was pronounced dead at the scene.

"It is sad," said Murama Rugumanya, a Congolese Tutsi refugee who works for Catholic Charities in Fort Worth. "It is beyond what you can think."

Rugumanya said about 50 people are traveling from Dallas-Fort Worth to Abilene.

'Where do I belong?'

Kiruhura said his uncle had been working for years to bring his family to the United States.

"Imagine," Kiruhura said. "For five years not to be with your family."

Kiruhura said Mutunzi wanted to take the family to Florida this summer.

Mutunzi, a political asylee from Rwanda, knew firsthand how hard it can be for refugees to start over in the United States when they have to learn a new culture and language while searching for work and opportunity, Kiruhura said.

The Congolese-Rwandan community is made up of asylees and refugees displaced by continued unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

Many are ethnic Tutsi whose relatives were displaced from Rwanda and went to neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Generations of Congolese Tutsi have tried to survive amid ethnic and political persecution in both African countries, Rugumanya said.

"When you are in the Congo, you feel like you are not home," Rugumanya said. "When you are in Rwanda, you feel like you are not at home. You feel like, 'Where do I belong?'"

'They were so happy'

Kiruhura said his uncle was the president of a bank in Rwanda, faced political problems and left.

For a time, he lived with Rugumanya in Maine. Later, he stopped in other regions as he tried to build a new life.

Vincent Thomas befriended Mutunzi in Rock Island, Ill., where he lived for a while. Thomas said Mutunzi was trying to learn English and find work.

"I helped him doing a résumé and trying to get him places to stay ... job interviews," Thomas said.

Thomas said Mutunzi's family fled after being threatened in Rwanda.

"He told me that he had to leave because the new regime that came in wanted him to give some of the money in the bank for whatever purposes," Thomas said. "He said he couldn't do that because it was the people's money."

Abilene felt like home to Mutunzi, friends said.

"He talked about the United States being good," Kiruhura said.

"They were so happy."

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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