‘We’re going to be positive, we’re going to be open’
HALIFAX — Jelele Etefa and her husband Bona Dhina sang the Canadian anthem, waved plastic flags and repeated a citizenship oath at a Halifax waterfront museum Monday.
It was the end of a long trek for the Ethiopian refugees, who were aware of the moment’s particular poignancy.
Dhina said he’d heard of the desperate mid-winter border crossings by Africans seeking refugee status in southern Manitoba, as U.S. President Donald Trump pushes to bring in an immigration ban targeting seven majority Muslim countries.
“They are closing a lot of countries ... It is very difficult for them. If they are going back to their original country, it will be dangerous for them. They will be jailed or killed. It’s very bad,” said Dhina.
Dhina gained Canadian citizenship a year ago, and on Monday brought his three-year-old daughter Simboo and seven-year-old son Surraa to witness their mother’s rite of passage at the Halifax gathering of 33 people from 16 nations who were becoming Canadians.
Etefa’s journey started in 2005 with a foot trek across arid southern Ethiopia and a stifling ride in the back of a truck filled with cattle to reach Nairobi. Dhina had fled the country in 2001 after expressing political dissent.
“They were jailing our people, killing our people,” he said, referring to his Oromo ethnicity. After years in and out of a refugee camp in Kenya, he and his wife were accepted through the United Nations refugee program for a placement in Nova Scotia in 2011.
Canada has seen a steady increase in refugee and protected person figures, climbing from 24,000 in 2014 to last year’s totals of almost 47,000, while total immigration was about 243,000 newcomers last year, according to Statistics Canada figures.
While a poll released Monday by the Angus Reid institute says the Liberal government has majority approval for its refugee policy, 41 per cent of respondents said the country is taking in too many asylum seekers. About 47 per cent of respondents said Canada is accepting the correct number of refugees, and 11 per cent of the 1,508 adults surveyed said the country should increase the number of refugees.
“I’m very mindful of the broader political and social context we’re in now,” Francoise Baylis, a bioethicist who gave the address during Monday’s ceremony, said. “I want to follow our prime minister in terms of ... we’re going to be positive, we’re going to be open, we’re going to be welcoming and we’re going to give out a very clear message that if you want strength you get it through diversity.
Simboo, 3, runs into the arms of her mother, Jelele Etefa, as they pose for a group photo following a Canadian citizenship ceremony at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Monday.