Refugee reunites with mom after more than 20 years

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — After being apart for more than 20 years, a refugee from Sierra Leone living in West Michigan was reunited with his mother Monday.

The refugee, Tamba Biango, was separated from his mother when rebels attacked his village in the early 1990s.

“I went to my mom’s house. I couldn’t find her. I asked some of my neighbors. They said they saw my mom, they went to another village. I went to that village. They say they went to another village,” Biango said.

He had to escape, but never gave up on finding her.

“They told her (my mother) I’m already dead, I was killed by the rebels,” Biango said.

Biango spent eight years in various countries before making it to the U.S in 2001. Eventually, he was able to call his mother on the phone.

“I said, ‘I’m alive,’” Biango recalled the phone conversation. “She said, ‘How can I prove that you are alive?’ She started asking me some questions — where I was born, what is the name of my uncle, what is the name of my sisters — so I name all of them. She said, ‘Oh, you’re my son. You’re still alive.’”

It took Biango 15 years to get his mother, Sarah Mani Chanabue, a visa because of problems with documentation.

Monday, they reunited at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. After so many years, they didn’t seem to know what to say to one another.

Biango put his arm around Chanabue as they sat next to one another, smiling. She shook her head a few times — a sign, her son said, of being overwhelmed with gratitude.

It was also the first time she met her grandchildren.

“She says she’s really overjoyed to see me,” Biango said, translating for his mother. “She says she’s overjoyed, mostly to see her grandkids. She says she was thinking she was going to die she’s not going to see my kid.”

Chanabue was also greeted with warm handshakes from members of the Woodlawn Christian Reformed Church who helped bring her to West Michigan.

Biango said she is here to stay. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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