A home cooked meal went a long way for Somali asylum seekers new to Winnipeg Saturday night.
Rice, chicken and lots of stew was on the menu at the Winnipeg Islamic Centre, but there was also a sense of community.
“We’re pretty new, so it’s good to meet new friends, know there’s a community here,” said Yacin Ali Sougueh, who fled the U.S. on foot for Manitoba two weeks ago.
Sougueh is from Djibouti and is one of many asylum seekers who’ve entered Manitoba in recent months.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have walked through snowy fields near the Emerson, Man. border to get into Canada.
Refugee claimants are using an exception in the 2004 Safe Third Country Agreement, which lets a person make a refugee claim in Canada if he or she has entered the country somewhere other than an official port of entry, like a field near a border crossing.
“It was a dangerous journey, but it was one that we needed to make to find a better life in the pursuit of happiness,” Sougueh said.
“It hasn’t been easy at all.”
Mohamed Sharif also came into Manitoba on foot.
He arrived last month with a group of six other asylum seekers. He said he felt as if he had no choice but to leave the U.S., so he paid $800 for a cab ride to the border.
“Things have changed drastically for us immigrants,” Sharif said, adding that Somalis have recently been deported from the U.S.
“At the end of the day, a lot of people are very scared.”
Sharif said he is grateful for the opportunity to have his refugee claim heard by an adjudicator — something many have waited years for in the U.S.
He said he fled Somalia in 2016 because he is part of the Madhiban, a minority tribal group at risk in the country.
“We’re only looking for a better life, opportunity for ourselves and our family,” he said.
“If we had options to stay in America we wouldn’t be here. If we had options to stay back in Somalia we definitely wouldn’t be in North America.”
Volunteers in Winnipeg’s Somali community organized Saturday’s dinner.
Anisa Isse said the community wants newcomers to feel welcome.
“You’ve left your family, your friends, the community you already knew,” she said.
“It can be [an] isolating experience,” she said.