The Current

'Canadians will welcome you': Refugees begin long trek north via Mexico

As the U.S. toughens and revises its immigration policies, those desperate for a better life are looking to Canada. And many of them are gathering in Mexico with a plan to travel north into Canada. The CBC's Evan Dyer shares their stories.
After two men armed with AK-47 assault rifles shot up the home Abdikadir Ahmed Omar shares with his wife and young child, he knew he would be forced to flee his home country of Somalia. Omar is among a growing number of asylum-seekers looking to Canada for sanctuary. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

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With U.S. President Donald Trump doubling down on his anti-terrorism immigration policies that target migrants and refugees in the U.S. illegally, the focus has shifted to how the changes are affecting people fleeing conflict zones around the world.

And as the route to Europe becomes more treacherous many refugees are aiming for the Americas.

The months-long journey north

CBC reporter Evan Dyer tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that South American countries are seeing an uptick in refugees from Africa and south Asia. They're not making refugee claims in South America, it's the starting point for a months-long journey north.

"The critical factor for them is that you can land in several American countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia without a visa," Dyer says.

"They're able to get a toehold on the American continents in a way they can't in Europe, and then that allows them to do the rest of the journey over land." 

One migrant's harrowing search for asylum


4 years ago
Somali refugee Guled Abdi Omar talks about his long, arduous journey from Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya to Mexico, from where he hopes to eventually head to Canada 0:42

Dyer shares the story of a refugee in Mexico city named Abdikadir Ahmed Omar. He was a translator working with United Nations officials in Somalia who says he was forced to flee the country after the al-Qaeda-linked group al Shabaab found out he was working with "infidels." They shot up his home, and local police said they couldn't protect him.

"If Shabaab wants to kill you, they will kill you," Omar says.

"If the government itself cannot secure itself, they cannot secure me. So the only option for me was to leave."

Omar fled south from his hometown of Kismayo across the border into Kenya. From there he flew to Togo, and then onto Brazil.

Many smugglers rob refugees along the way

Dyer says migrants and refugees like Omar travel across South America from Brazil to Peru, then begin their trek northward, through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and finally into Mexico. 
Mustafa Adam, 19, Abdiaziz Ahmed, 29, Abdikadir Ahmed Omar, 30, in Mexico City on Feb. 17, 2017. ( Marc Robichaud/CBC)

The trip is usually made on foot and takes three to five months. Smugglers charge as much as $12,000, not including the flights to South America. And many rob refugees along the way.

"Because you're a foreigner, it's very easy," says Omar.

"They had a gun, and if someone has a gun, he can overpower [you] … The smugglers, they work together. They know the area much better than you, they are the locals, so they have the upper hand ... and no one wants to take the risk of going in front of a gun."

Dyer tells Tremonti Omar knows he still has a difficult trek ahead of him, made even more difficult since President Trump's crackdown on refugees and the southern border. But he says Justin Trudeau's message that Canada is open to refugees really resonates.

"I follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube," Omar says of the prime minister. He said Canada's new Ahmed Hussan, Canada's new Minister of Immigration and Refugees, is a great role model.

"He's a kind of success story, where refugees are not a burden but can be something positive."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by the CBC's Evan Dyer, Lisa laventure and The Current's Lara O'Brien and Kristin Nelson.