CLEVELAND — As a five-year-old refugee was laid to rest after being hit and killed by a 17-year-old driver, those in the Congolese community are taking a closer look at her death and a trend happening within their community.
Apolina Asunami died one week ago while playing outside her home along West 50th Street on the border of the city's Stockyards and Clark-Fulton neighborhoods.
We’re told Asunami’s family sought refuge from their war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Asumani’s death marks at least the third Congolese refugee killed in Cleveland since August of 2020, all three seemingly cases where they weren’t targets and instead were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“We all run from war,” Mayele Ngemba, president of the Cleveland Congolese community, said. “Most people don’t understand that many of us run from our country because we are seeking safety. Safety is very important and safety is a priority for us. We want to live in peace and that’s why we leave that place.”
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Cleveland City Councilman Kerry McCormack said. “It tears at your heart and your soul. Coming to a country you’re not familiar with, you may not be familiar with the language and the culture. And to lose a child, for anyone to lose a child, but I think it’s layered on when there’s a language barrier and culture barrier as well.”
According to the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland, anywhere from 500-700 refugees arrive in Cleveland on average each year.
On top of that, Cleveland is known for attracting refugees that previously settled in other parts of the country, called secondary migration. Asumani’s neighborhood is listed as the second most populated area when it comes to secondary migration.
Ngemba told News 5 that while these deaths over the past two years are not in any way connected, he will continue to push for ways to improve the lives and safety for those members of the Congolese community. In this case, that means helping make a renewed push for speed bumps or any other solution to help slow down drivers in this west side neighborhood.
“It’s all of us, it's our job and we have to get this done with,” Ngemba added.