A Somali refugee claimant who was found soaked and shivering near the Canada-U.S. border, after swimming across the Red River, says he is thankful for the generosity of the Manitobans who have taken him to safety.
Yahya Samatar was spotted on the side of a road just outside Emerson, Man., on the morning of Aug. 5. He had started his run across the border from North Dakota the night before.
"I decided that if I crossed the river to the other side, I am in Canadian territory. So later then I decided to jump into the river — I jumped into the river fast — then I went back … then I slept in the bush overnight," he told guest host Joff Schmidt of CBC's Up to Speed program on Monday.
"In the morning, I found that I can cross the river if I left all my stuff behind there. Then later I jumped into the river, I swam … and then I came to the other side of the river."
Journey began in 2014
Samatar's journey to Canada began a year ago, when he fled Somalia in August 2014.
He said he and his wife are human-rights workers, working with youth groups and child soldiers, and they faced persecution from various groups, including al-Qaeda and local authorities.
Samatar said he paid smugglers to take him to Ethiopia, Brazil, Central America and the United States.
He said he was denied refugee status in the U.S., prompting his effort to enter Canada.
Samatar said he made the swim across the Red River around 5:30 or 6 a.m. He estimated that the crossing took several minutes.
"I was shaking. It was very cold. I didn't have clothes — any at all — [and] I didn't have shoes. Then I ended up in Emerson … and I met a very nice guy; he helped me," he said.
"He gave me a fancy sweater, then he gave me a drink, then he called 911. An emergency team came to me there, then they gave me a blanket."
Border officials later took Samatar to the border station in Emerson and interviewed him, then called Hospitality House Refugee Ministry in Winnipeg.
'He had absolutely nothing'
Karin Gordon, the ministry's executive director of resettlement, said Samatar didn't have much with him when she arrived in Emerson to pick him up.
"He was wearing some trousers that had been given to him because he crossed just wearing a sleeveless vest and his shorts, his underwear shorts, and he left everything behind on the bank of the Red River," she recalled.
"The [Canada Border Services Agency] staff there were very sympathetic and helpful, just wanted to make sure that he was safe and that we would be taking good care of him. They were very respectful," she added.
"They called us because they wanted someone to help him from Winnipeg because he had no way of getting to Winnipeg, because he had absolutely nothing — he had no wallet, no money … nothing."
Samatar is now seeking asylum in Manitoba and is in the care of the ministry, which normally works with privately sponsored refugees who are already approved by the federal government by the time they arrive in Canada.
"He doesn't have resolution yet until he has a hearing to find out if he passes and if he's accepted as a permanent resident in Canada, so that will be in about another month or so," Gordon said.
His hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 30.
Samatar said even if he ends up being deported, he is thankful for the Manitobans who have helped him feel welcome.
"I'm really feeling like I'm at home — the hospitality I have met in the Canadian people. Things [are] going well after now," he said.