Alone in her native Eritrea, the girl fled to Ethiopia to escape political turmoil. In Ethiopia, she lived in a refugee camp for many years.
The 17-year-old girl arrived alone in San Jose, California on Friday (Feb. 10), marking a new chapter in a painstaking journey that took her from a refugee camp in Ethiopia to a new life in the Bay Area.
Waiting at the end of a long passageway was her new foster mother, an Oakland sociologist with no children of her own.
The two women had never spoken, yet they would go home as mother and daughter.
The teenager’s trip to the U.S., after years of waiting, was interrupted by President Trump’s order suspending refugee arrivals and her original trip to San Jose was cancelled. But on Friday, she finally landed at Mineta San Jose International Airport, where she met her foster mother, Laura Fantone, after being greeted by a small crowd holding welcome posters and balloons.
Once an activist in her native Italy, Fantone had volunteered at refugee camps across Europe and welcomed refugees fleeing political turmoil in Yugoslavia. But this time, something spurred her to act in a much larger way, she said.
“I did the (foster parent) training and started to really take in the idea of what it means to open your door, open your home, open your heart to someone that you don’t know,” said Fantone, who teaches at Santa Clara University.
“I’m glad that I have this chance, but a lot of people are still struggling to get out of the countries that have been blocked because they are a Muslim-majority and this is clearly unconstitutional.”
Fantone said she spent Thursday shopping for ingredients to cook traditional Eritrean dishes, which she researched online. Their first few days together will be spent exploring their East Bay neighborhood, shopping, meeting family members and making trips to the library, she said.
The Eritrean girl is going home with Fantone as part of a refugee foster program run by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. Catholic Charities, the girl’s legal guardian, declined to identify her in order to maintain her privacy. Since the Eritrean government does not allow people to leave the country, they feared naming her would put her extended family and other loved ones at risk, according to Angela Albright, director of the organization’s refugee foster care program.