Winnipeg ministry dealing with influx of Somali refugee claimants

A Winnipeg ministry that houses and works with refugees is working with an influx of people from Somalia who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border in recent weeks to seek refugee status.

Hospitality House Refugee Ministry has picked up 6 claimants from Somalia in the past month

Karin Gordon, Hospitality House's executive director of resettlement, with some of the privately sponsored refugees it's working with on Tuesday. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

A Winnipeg ministry that houses and works with refugees is working with an influx of people from Somalia who have crossed the Canada-U.S. border in recent weeks to seek refugee status.

Hospitality House Refugee Ministry has been asked by the Canada Border Services Agency staff in Emerson, Man., to pick up six claimants in the past month, including one woman last week who needed medical care and was taken to a hospital in Winnipeg.

Among those the ministry is helping is Yahya Samatar, who was found shivering on the side of a road near Emerson on Aug. 5 after he swam across the Red River in his bid to enter Canada.

All six claimants are fleeing the war-torn African country, said Karin Gordon, Hospitality House's executive director of resettlement.

"Many of the men who are here … were working for human rights in Somalia and their lives were at risk as a result," Gordon told CBC News on Tuesday.

"We're fortunate that we had empty beds and space available. And if a refugee is in need, we'll try to accommodate or we'll refer them to other people."

Hospitality House usually works with privately sponsored refugees, meaning they are already approved by the Canadian government by the time they arrive in the country. The ministry is often the refugees' first home and provides support to help them settle into Canada.

The ministry's house can accommodate up to nine people, and it's currently full — Samatar and three other Somali claimants are staying there, along with five privately sponsored refugees.

The two other claimants have since moved on to other Canadian cities to be with family members.

'Fled for their lives'

Out of fear for their safety, most of the refugee claimants from Somalia did not want to speak to CBC News on camera.

Gordon said some of the claimants have been jailed in the United States for being in the country illegally — all part of the dangerous journey they've had to make to flee Somalia.

"Their country is in absolute ruins at this point. There's a civil war, there's a nominal government but the country is run by warlords and various clans and they're all fighting with each other," she said.

"Most of these people would rather be at home. They love their families, they love the people in their communities," she added.

"The vast majority of refugees that we're working with have fled for their lives, and sometimes they die on the way here."

Gordon said the federal government should allow more refugees in, as well as make it easier for them to come to Canada.

"They don't consider that these people are at serious risk and in grave danger where they are, and they need to move quickly," she said.

Gobena Loke, a privately sponsored refugee from Ethiopia who's staying at Hospitality House, agreed that the process to enter Canada should not take such a long time.

Loke, who spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, said it took seven years from the time he was sponsored until he arrived in Canada.

At the same time, he said he's grateful for the "good Samaritans" who helped him come to this country.

"I faced a lot of hardship in that camp and then I struggled not to lose hope until the time … when I took this sponsorship, when my future and my hope came alive," he said.

Loke said he's eagerly awaiting the arrival of his wife and two children, who are expected to come to Canada next year.

Gordon said refugees and those seeking refugee status in Canada just want "to be able to prove themselves and to blend in and to lead a normal life and to raise their kids, and be safe — for the first time, sometimes, in their lives."

Refugees crossing Emerson up 10x, expert says

Tom Denton of Hospitality House said, on average, about 50 refugees sneak across the border near Emerson every month.

He said that's 10 times higher than a year ago.

"Last year, I think we had something like 55 or 56 people in a year, and now that many are coming up a month," he said. "There's been quite an increase in the flow.

He said many refugees who are ordered to leave the U.S. can't present at the Canadian border in an official way.

"The people who came clandestinely down the road through a farmer's field, well that was OK. Then, they were making their claims inside Canada," said Denton.

With files from the CBC's Erin Brohman


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