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Refugee’s quest for a safe place interrupted

Olivier Kamndon, right, and Melinda Forward, a French teacher at Del Norte High School to teaches one of his sons and has worked with Kamndon’s family. (Rosalie Rayburn/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Olivier Kamndon survived a two-month trek of hundreds of miles through Africa, dodging militia bullets and walking past dead bodies, all the while hoping to find safety as a refugee in the United States, only to be struck by a motorist as he crossed an Albuquerque street.

Kamndon was reported in serious condition at University of New Mexico Hospital on Thursday after being hit by a car reportedly driven by a teenager earlier this week. He was trying to cross Montgomery.

In December, Kamndon spoke to the Journal for a story about refugees. He said his family had arrived in Albuquerque last October after a seven-year struggle to escape violence in their native country of Central African Republic, which has been engulfed in a civil war most years since 2004.

“I just wanted to be somewhere safe and peaceful,” he said.

Olivier Kamndon and his children attend a party in December at New Beginnings Church of God along with teacher Melinda Forward. Kamndon was seriously injured crossing an Albuquerque street this week. (Rosalie Rayburn/Albuquerque Journal)

Kamndon said he and his family walked over 600 miles to Chad. Along the way they saw dozens of people who had been shot as well as bodies that had been thrown into a river.

In Chad, they lived in a refugee camp during the years it took for them to be approved for refugee status.

Kamndon speaks French and several African languages. He was eager to learn English so he could get a job and support his family. To that end he was taking classes several times a week.

He recently landed a job as a maintenance worker at the Jewish Community Center.

Now, he likely won’t be able to work for a long time.

Around 9:45 p.m. Monday night, he was walking north across Montgomery near Carlisle when a red Cadillac that police say was being driven by 19-year-old Samantha Ramos-Montanez struck him and continued going west. Kamndon, his wife and their eight children live in an apartment complex in the area.

Police later took Ramos-Montanez into custody near Fourth and Osuna. She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with great bodily harm.

Kamndon was taken to UNMH. Hospital staff had trouble locating his family, and a UNM social worker who found the Journal article contacted the newspaper for help.

The Journal put the social worker in touch with Lutheran Family Services, which helps refugees, and Melinda Forward, a French teacher at Del Norte High School who teaches one of Kamndon’s sons and has worked with the family.

Forward went to the hospital and helped translate information about Kamndon’s condition into French for his wife.

Samantha Ramos-Montanez

“We reassured her he was in good hands,” Forward said.

David Simon, executive director at the JCC, said he heard about the accident Tuesday night. He said he and others at the center are very concerned for Kamndon and his family

“They’ve suffered a terrible blow. This is a good man who is working hard to make a new life here,” Simon said.

Lutheran Family Services Program Director Tarrie Burnett said volunteers are providing meals for the family. Her agency has set up a fund to help them.