Thursday February 23, 2017
Naimo Ahmed, who requested her full face not be shown, lost her mother and her husband on her wedding day in Somalia. (Lyza Sale/CBC)
It was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, but on Naimo Ahmed's wedding day, her new husband and her mother were killed.
The 23-year-old Somali woman spent the days after her marriage in July fleeing — first to a relative's home in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, and then to countries across the world, including Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica.
She finally made it to the United States, she said, where she was detained in Texas before being released and flown to Minneapolis to await her asylum hearing.
But it wouldn't be the end of her journey.
On Monday, Ahmed walked into Canada, where she finally hopes to find a home and a future.
Since the start of 2017, more than 100 people have walked through snow-covered fields near the Canada-U.S. border at Emerson, Man., to claim refugee status in Canada, RCMP said.
Nearly 30 people crossed the border this past weekend. Staff at an Emerson hotel say seven more people came through on Tuesday night, although that number has not been confirmed by the RCMP.
'I am black. I am Somali. I am a Muslim'
Ahmed didn't expect to end up in Canada.
She's from a minority group and said that growing up in southern Somalia there were always problems and conflicts.
Ahmed said that when she met her husband, his family discouraged their union because he was not a member of her group.
On the day of their wedding, she said, a group of people came to her mother's house — where her husband was — and shot up the building, killing her mother, husband and other family members who had come to rejoice in the young couple's love.
One of her deceased husband's friends grabbed Ahmed and she fled from the community.
"They ruined my life. I didn't have anywhere else to go," Ahmed said.
After months of travel, she made it to the United States and thought she'd finally found freedom, but she was immediately put in detention.
Finally, she was allowed in front of a judge and was approved for the first step of seeking asylum in the U.S. She was permitted to fly to Minneapolis at the start of January, where there was a woman she knew from Somalia.
While waiting for the next step in her permit process, Ahmed watched the United States change following President Donald Trump's inauguration. She said it became a country where she no longer could see herself.
"I am black. I am Somali. I am a Muslim — the three things the president doesn't like," she said.
"To him, I am a terrorist. But I am not. I don't want to harm anyone; that's the last thing I want to do. All I am looking for is protection."
As rumours swirled of Somalis being deported and as Trump's travel ban was temporarily implemented, Ahmed made the decision to flee north.
"I had to risk my life to pass through all that snow so that I can get protection from Canada. That's why I came to Canada," she said.
She crossed the border with two other people in the wet, sloppy and sometimes very deep snow. Ahmed wasn't sure she'd make it, particularly because her asthma was acting up.
When she finally arrived, she was taken to a hospital.
"I was like, I am lucky now. Now I'm in a safe space. I am lucky," she said.
'Challenges for our agencies'
The surge in asylum seekers crossing the Canadian border has left services and communities scrambling to find resources and even beds.
In Winnipeg, Welcome Place, which works with asylum seekers, has filled all of its accommodations. The Salvation Army opened up beds, which were quickly filled over the weekend.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said asylum seekers are not just coming into Manitoba, they are coming into Canada, and it presents a challenge "that deserves a national response and national co-ordination."
Pallister sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to better co-ordinate services locally and with Ottawa. What that response will look like still has to be developed, but Pallister said safety — for both the asylum seekers and the people of the province — needs to be first and foremost.
"The challenges for our agencies are real. People are tired, they're burning out and stressed. So I think the impetus should be on us, as the elected leaders of the province and country, to do our very, very best to make sure that we're working together effectively," he said on CBC's Power & Politics.
The federal government has been facing tough questions about the steady stream of asylum seekers crossing into the country.
'We will respect international law'
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said provinces seeing the surge of people crossing the border will have to work together with the federal government to make sure that the integrity of the border is maintained and that there is a properly functioning immigration system.
That plan will also involve adhering to international responsibilities for dealing with refugees, Goodale told Power and Politics.
"We have been focused thus far … on properly handling the people that are flowing in according to Canadian law. Because this flow from the southern side of the border is so ad hoc, it is very difficult to communicate in any coherent way," he said.
"I don't think people are saying we should have RCMP officers lined up across the border, hooking arms and keeping people out or sending threatening messages, but obviously we want our procedures to be respected, just as we will respect international law in dealing with people who turn up in an irregular way."
For Ahmed, she understands the asylum process in Canada will take time, but it's a step toward fulfilling her dreams. After all she has been through, she said she plans to be a doctor or a nurse so she can help people like the Canadian medical staff helped her.
"I want to help," she said. "That's what I love, helping people."