Resident Stories: Refugees

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

- Warsan Shire

The topic of refugees has been a hot one recently, and for good reasons of course. Nisa Homes hasn’t been alone in its experiences with an increasing number of women and children seeking asylum in Canada. In recent months, due to a certain election that took place down south, we’ve had increasingly high numbers of women with children crossing the US-Canada border, on foot! The reasons are several:

  1. Trudeau is a global figure adored by many, even oversees, where the stories of the refugees he helps makes headlines.
  2. With the uncertain atmosphere regarding refugee and immigrants in the US under the Trump administration, many fear that the stability and safety they seek is no longer guaranteed in the US. So rather than put themselves in a position where they might be forced to leave again for safety, they no longer seek asylum in the US. People seeking a safer home choose to use US asa transit location since it is easier to get a US visa than a Canadian one. After making it to the states, they continue their courageous and scary journey, hoping to find a safe place to call home.

This has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugee claimants crossing the US-Canada border by foot. That journey alone is a terrifying and it's a dangerous one. Not only because they could get caught by border patrol, but there is also the unpredictable weather to account for, which includes rain, snow and sub zero temperatures. You might have heard this story of refugees who crossed the border into Manitoba earlier this year getting severe frost bite.

One of our residents, a mother of two children shared her experience with us. Her partner had kicked her out two days after arriving in the US. Told her, the children were now her responsibility and he wanted to start a new life. She told us she still doesn’t know where she got the courage to just venture out into the unknown with nothing but her kids and some clothes, not knowing what awaits her. All she knew was that it was safer than what she was leaving behind her.

One of the first cases regarding refugees that we got involved with was of a mother of six kids. She had crossed the US-Canada border on foot with her kids, on a typically very rainy Vancouver day. The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) called us after hours to seek our help so they could communicate with her. They had tried talking to the mother and her kids but to no avail. Turns out the reason was that in their home country, the authorities were not to be trusted. And considering the situation they were in, they assumed cooperating with the police would result in them getting deported. They were worried beyond belief about surviving. They couldn’t return to their country because they had been issued death threats, their house had been raided and the children were threatened with kidnapping. This was all done by the local militia which demanded thatthe eldest son aged only 16 at the time should join their cause and fight with them. With nowhere else to go for safety, and the unexpected blessing of a US visa, they sold everything they owned, borrowed money from everyone they could and came to the US. Unfortunately,  the woman's husband couldn’t join them since Muslim middle-aged men are not usually granted US visitor visas that easily. But at least the children were safe and they had hope for a better future. Once they got to the US, their family there told them they’re better off continuing their journey to Canada since they themselves weren’t sure of what the future had in store for Muslims in the US since the new president. After the speaking to the RCMP and also hearing the woman's side of the story, we decided to help them in whatever way we could. They came to Nisa Homes around midnight with only the clothes on the soaking clothes on their back. We had to put one item of clothing at a time in the dryer since we didn’t have clothes to give them.

Another story is of a woman named Hafsa and her daughter and son. They were also forced to leave their home after multiple threats from the government of her home country. This was because Hafsa was outspoken in condemning the human rights abuse committed by the government. Eventually she was forced to shut down her news agency, sell her house, and move to a different city, but that didn't stop the threats. The threats continued and nothing seemed to appease the aggressors. Hafsa was in a constant state of panic and was prescribed antidepressants in order to cope with the harsh reality. Finally, a way out was presented to her when she was invited to a conference in the US. Hafsa and her daughter were able to get visa’s but her teenage son was denied. Hoping she could easily apply for him to join them once they got to Canada, she arranged for him to stay with her sister for those couple of weeks. After attending the conference, Hafsa and her daughter took a bus to the border and crossed into Canada. They were caught by the RCMP and detained for several hours while they verified their story and submitted their refugee claim. Once they were released they managed to come to Nisa Homes.Their claim was approved soon after but they have to wait another year at least before her son can join them. The fear for his life is growing by the day as a raid on their home took place only days after they arrived at Nisa Homes. Thankfully we found out that Hafsa’s son wasn’t home, but what little possessions they did have were stolen.

The goal of this post is to show that these women and children are not coming to Canada because they are bored, or looking for adventure. They are coming because they have no other choice. They’re leaving behind homes, families, friends, jobs, and comfort of familiarity in search of safety, to protect their lives and to give their children a better future.