‘Left with no op­tions’: U.S. So­ma­lis not sur­prised refugees eye­ing Canada

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - LAU­REN KRUGEL

MIN­NE­AP­O­LIS — Mem­bers of the largest So­mali com­mu­nity in the United States say they’re not sur­prised to see a grow­ing num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers brav­ing the elements to il­lic­itly en­ter Canada.

They say it is a symp­tom of the con­trast be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s hard­line views on im­mi­gra­tion and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s wel­com­ing tone.

“Some­times when you’re left with no op­tions and you’re look­ing for a bet­ter life for your­self, peo­ple do take risks,” said Mo­hamud Noor, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of So­mali Com­mu­nity in Min­nesota.

“It will in­crease rather than de­crease ... This is not go­ing to re­duce.”

At Min­ne­ap­o­lis’s Karmel Square So­mali Mall, a labyrinthine mar­ket of tex­tile stalls and tea shops with a mosque up­stairs, vir­tu­ally every ven­dor had a tele­vi­sion tuned to 24hour news chan­nels run­ning Trump’s wild Thurs­day news con­fer­ence.

When asked what they thought of the man on the screen, many of the men gath­ered around shook their heads or scoffed.

Quizzed on their views on Canada, how­ever, and many heaped praise on Trudeau and pointed out that his im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, Ahmed Hussen, was once a So­mali refugee.

“We know a lot of good things about Cana­dian peo­ple,” said Ma­hamed Cali, who runs a lo­cal So­mali-lan­guage ra­dio sta­tion. “We like the prime min­is­ter of Canada, his gen­eros­ity, and also Cana­dian peo- ple, how they open arms for every­body.”

Po­lice have found dozens of peo­ple wan­der­ing the snowy prairie around the bor­der town of Emer­son, Man., in re­cent weeks, mostly from So­ma­lia, Ghana and other African coun­tries.

Al­though there’s noth­ing new about peo­ple skirt­ing of­fi­cial bor­der cross­ings to get into Canada, more peo­ple are re­sort­ing to this op­tion in the Trump era, said Noor.

Of­ten, trav­ellers will ar­range rides in Min­ne­ap­o­lis and get dropped off hours later near the bor­der i n North Dakota, where driv­ers tell them “goodbye and good luck,” he said.

The Min­nesota State De­mo­graphic Cen­ter says the state is home to al­most one-third of the to­tal U.S. So­mali pop­u­la­tion. As of 2015, as many as 65,000 were born in the East African coun­try or had par­ents from there. Peo­ple in the com­mu­nity cite higher num­bers.

Many were jolted by com­ments Trump made at a Min­ne­ap­o­lis cam­paign rally two days be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion. He told sup­port­ers the state had “suf­fered enough” from bring­ing in So­mali refugees.

“That scared a lot of peo­ple who re­ally wanted to vote for him in the be­gin­ning,” said Ab­d­i­rizak Bihi, di­rec­tor of the So­mali Ed­u­ca­tion and So­cial Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter in Min­ne­ap­o­lis.

The con­cern has only in­ten­si­fied since the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempted crack­down last month on travel from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries, in­clud­ing So­ma­lia. Though the ban has been blocked in court, there is still much con­fu­sion.

PAUL CHIASSON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A So­mali is fam­ily helped into Canada by RCMP of­fi­cers along the bor­der near Hem­ming­ford, Que., on Fri­day.

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