‘Left with no options’: U.S. Somalis not surprised refugees eyeing Canada
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.
A Somali is family helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the border near Hemmingford, Que., on Friday.