Yahya Samatar is observing his first Ramadan since arriving last year as a refugee in Canada.

Samatar swam across the muddy waters of the Red River to Manitoba from North Dakota last August.

On Monday Samatar began his first day of fasting from dawn to dusk and special Ramadan prayer in observance with the Muslim holy time.

Samatar is originally from Somalia where he worked to defend human rights. Facing persecution by al-Shabaab, the militant group linked to al-Qaeda, Samatar left his family behind and paid smugglers to take him to Ethiopia, Brazil, Central America and eventually to the United States.

He said because of the long days in Manitoba, this Ramadan is the longest he has had to go without food or drink.

"It's a really big difference because I never had these long hours of fasting," he said.

Muslims in Winnipeg observing Ramadan do not eat or drink from about 4:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Another difference in Canada, said Samatar, is that very few people are fasting along side him.

"Wherever you go in Somalia … all the people are fasting, there are no restaurants," he said.

At least at work, his colleagues are sensitive to his hunger pains, Samatar said.

"I'm really very glad — with the team I'm working with they do respect my Ramadan," he said. 

It's been "really hard" to mark Ramadan without his family nearby, but hopefully soon that will change.

Samatar's refugee application was accepted in September. After he gets permanent residency in Canada, he will be able to bring over his wife and children still in Somalia.