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Ugandan family reunited after six anxious years of separation

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Morris Mukasa and Teddy Nakalembe with their children safe at last in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Morris Mukasa and Teddy Nakalembe with their children safe at last in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Six agonising years of separation have ended for Catholic couple Morris Mukasa and Teddy Nakalembe with the safe arrival of their children in Sydney.

The parents were forced to flee their native Uganda for asylum in Australia in 2017 but were forced to leave their five children behind in the Diocese of Kampala, the capital city, where they lived and worked.

The Catholic Weekly told their story in 2022 when the married couple were granted permanent residency, which paved the way for them to sponsor their children in Australia.

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In August the Federal Government approved their applications and the siblings, Claire, 15, Peace, 15, Moreen, 12, Sarah, 9 and Cloudius, 7, finally landed in Sydney on 2 October.

The couple have become known for their community work with migrants and refugees, which they threw themselves into to fill the empty hours after working their full-time jobs.
“People here look up to me, but I have felt like a failure regarding my own children,” Mr Mukasa said.

“Now God has answered my prayers and has shown his power in his own time.”

Now the family is getting to know each other better and are applying to local Catholic schools.

Sarah and Cloudius have no memories of living with their parents and Claire said she had been nervous about the reunion but “so happy to get to hug them.”

The family was separated amid a crime wave in Kampala while Morris was employed to lead the church’s large archdiocesan prison chaplaincy program.

He was frustrated by corruption he had witnessed and after speaking publicly about a spate of unsolved murders was told it made him and his home an immediate target.

The last few weeks were anxious for the couple who have faced suspicion about their story and were unsure the children would leave Uganda safely.

They also received around $6000 in donations to help with their reunion costs following a Catholic Weekly article about their situation last September.

“Without the church as a shelter for refugees we would be nowhere,” Mr Musaka said, adding that he knew others in a similar situation had attempted suicide.

Ms Nakalembe said that as “very committed people” they will “not let Australia down.”
“We are very happy to live in Australia,” she said.

It is not uncommon for refugees to be separated from close family members due to visa and sponsorship requirements, a situation long criticised by refugee advocates.

The couple received advice and support from Sydney’s Catholic community including archdiocesan immigration officer Kylie Cullen.

She said her office accompanied them with pastoral and practical support through a long and rigorous process, which included DNA and police checks for them and their children, connecting them with legal services, applying for passports and providing trauma counselling.

“It’s an arduous and heartless process even if you know what to do and people without support are so isolated,” Ms Cullen said.

“It can take years and we as a country can do it much better.”

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