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Refugees welcome 'bright' future in new home

Story Highlights

• Burundian family spends 35 years as refugees
• "I am hoping to get a nationality from here," says daughter born in camp
• Spartan apartment a base to pursue dreams
By Debra Alban
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CLARKSTON, Georgia (CNN) -- Bonifasi Nahimana has traveled around the world for safety -- and for the first time in more than three decades, he says he's not afraid to go to sleep at night.

"Back where we were, we were just always wondering, 'Oh, they will kill us, they will kill us,'" Nahimana said through an interpreter.

Nahimana, 67, and his family fled Burundi in 1972, when ethnic violence killed an estimated 200,000 people. Their next destination was Rwanda, where they stayed until 1994 when the country's own civil war left between 500,000 and a million dead. From there, they moved to Tanzania, where they lived in the Kibondo camp with 52,000 other refugees until earlier this month. ( Map )

For his youngest daughter, Yudita Siniremera, 21, who was born in Rwanda into the refugee life, the new home offers a chance for a national identity for the first time.

"I don't have any nationality," she said through an interpreter. "I am hoping to get a nationality from here." ( Gallery: A new life in the United States )

The family is among some 3,000 Burundian refugees whom the United States has agreed to resettle this year. Another 5,500 are expected by 2009.

As news spread across the camp in Tanzania that the screening process for resettlement in the U.S. was beginning, Nahimana and his family were filled with hope.

It was an opportunity that Nahimana describes from the stark white living room of his new home, an apartment, in Clarkston, Georgia, about 15 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Hope of a new beginning in the U.S. was "bright. As bright as this house," he said, sitting on a scruffy orange-brown couch with his wife and daughter.

Nahimana arrived in Atlanta on June 4 with Siniremera and his wife, Rosa Nsengimana, 64. The International Rescue Committee also set up one of his daughters and her family in an apartment upstairs, while Nahimana's other three children are trying to make it to the United States as refugees as well.

And while Nahimana's family is grateful for finally being able to live in what he calls "a safe country, a peaceful country," they are feeling stir crazy in their home.

Because they are still waiting for an orientation on how to use the public transportation system and to enroll in English classes, these early days in America are spent inside their home, which does not have any frills, such as a television or a telephone.

They have air conditioning, but they are still learning they need to close the doors and windows for it to be effective.

The IRC makes it a point to place people of the same nationality near each other, said IRC case manager Beatrice Uwimpuhwe, so Nahimana and his family can socialize with other Burundians in the apartment complex.

Neighbors gathered round to enjoy the diversion as Nahimana spoke with CNN recently.

The two-story, 208-unit complex is a short walk from a bus stop and a short drive from Interstate 285, both offering the mobility the refugees need for jobs to realize their "bright" hopes.

At 67, Nahimana, is eligible for Social Security, but he wants to work in his new country. He's a carpenter.

"When you have a job, when you have money, you have everything you want. That's it."

Burundian refugees Bonifasi Nahimana, left, his wife, Rosa Nsengimana, and daughter Yudita Siniremera relax outside their Clarkston, Georgia, apartment.

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