This resilient mother came to Montreal for the safety of her daughter, but life has been difficult

"I was overworking myself. I had to pick up three jobs. Sometimes I would work overnight and then work again during the day. I didn't have enough time to rest because I had to make sure I had enough money to pay daycare."

A junior high school teacher in Nigeria, she now works overnight at a nursing home

A victim of sexual assault as a girl, Gloria moved to Canada because she was worried about the safety of her infant daughter. (Shutterstock)

Gloria* grew up in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria. She has three sons and a husband, studied communications at the University of Nigeria and worked as a teacher in a junior high school.

But her life changed five years ago when she found out she was pregnant again, this time with a girl.

"When I was growing up as a girl, I had bad experiences where someone molested me," she said.

"I didn't want to have a baby girl, I didn't want what happened to me to happen to my daughter. When I found out that I was having a baby girl, I wanted to leave," she said.

According to UNICEF data, one in four Nigerian girls are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. So Gloria decided to find a safer place where she and her unborn daughter could live.

She travelled outside her country for the first time in her life and landed in the United States in 2016. She gave birth a few months later and lived in Atlanta, Ga. for one year.

"When I was in the U.S., life was very difficult for me. In the U.S. if you don't have a social security number, you can't do anything," she said.

"I was living in between different houses, I lived in almost six different houses, I can't keep count."

She said the living conditions as an asylum seeker in the country were too difficult and she could no longer stay there.

"I went through a lot. I was eating leftovers from the sink, I was sleeping on the floor for months, I was sleeping from house to house. I was begging for food for my daughter. That was why I came here. I want a good life for [my daughter]," she said.

Gloria arrived in Montreal in April 2018 with her one-year-old, two suitcases and the car seat required for her child to ride the bus to Canada.

'I would cry my eyes out'

It is difficult to confirm the exact number of people without status in Quebec. The City of Montreal estimates that around 50,000 people without status live in the city. And in 2019 alone, 31,265 asylum claims were submitted in the province.

When Gloria first arrived in Montreal, she was taken with her daughter to a refugee camp, and was later placed in a shelter where they stayed for one month.

In the summer of 2018, the pastor from the church she attended helped her find an apartment in the West Island of Montreal and she has been living there since.

When she moved to her new place, she needed to secure a job that could pay for rent, food and daycare. She had difficulty finding work because she could not speak French.

She wants to learn French the language, but it has been hard to find the time as a newcomer raising a young child on her own.

A month before the pandemic hit Quebec, she found her current job working at a nursing home as a caregiver where she now works full time. She takes care of the elderly, including giving them a shower and getting them ready in the morning. Her typical shift starts at 11 p.m. and ends at 7 a.m., making it hard to find someone to watch her daughter overnight.

In the spring of 2018, the Quebec government sent out a notice to state-run daycare centres that asylum seekers were no longer eligible as they waited for their claims to be heard.

That left Gloria paying $30 per day for a spot in a private daycare.

"I want to work, I want to be independent, I don't want to depend on the government or depend on people," she said.

"I was overworking myself. I had to pick up three jobs. Sometimes I would work overnight and then work again during the day. I didn't have enough time to rest because I had to make sure I had enough money to pay daycare," she said.

At the height of the pandemic, she collapsed at home due to excess stress and insufficient rest. Her neighbour had to call 911.

"I was helpless, that was why I was working around the clock," she said, adding that she also sends money back home to help her family.

"Sometimes, I would cry my eyes out because things are not working. But I keep on moving, hoping that someday everything will be alright."

Gloria hopes to get permanent residency through a federal program for those working on the front lines during the pandemic.

And she hopes that one day, things could become easier for asylum seekers in Montreal.

"When we arrive, we are looking for a safe, clean apartment for ourselves and our children. When we come here, we leave our country and the comfort of our home for life to be easier for us, not harder," she said.

"Please make sure that newcomers feel welcomed, don't make life so hard for us," she said.

Asylum seekers often arrive with no connections in Montreal and have limited knowledge about everyday life in the city. The isolation they face is another hurdle to overcome.

Gloria joined a refugee claimants group on social media where she met friends in the city who have helped her during difficult times.

"When I am down, or need someone to talk to, I pick my phone and chat with them and some of them have become like family," she said.

When she is lonely, she tries her best to keep herself busy by taking online courses. She took a three-month course on how to understand people living with dementia in order to help her at work. She also has an application on her phone to help her learn French.

As she waits for the possibility of receiving permanent residency, she dreams of the day her three sons and husband will be able to join her and her daughter in Montreal.

"I've been waiting for my family for five years now. I would be the happiest woman on earth to be with them again," she said.

*CBC News has agreed to not publish her real name because of security concerns due to her precarious immigration status.


Sandra Hercegova is a journalist with CBC in Quebec City covering stories across all of Quebec's regions.


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