For Canadian refugees, the road is long and uncertain

Two women share the stories of fleeing their home countries

Imabong, who doesn't want her last name used, came to Canada from Nigeria in 2004 to study at the University of Toronto. She became a conventional refugee in 2009.
Imabong, who doesn’t want her last name used, came to Canada from Nigeria in 2004 to study at the University of Toronto. She became a conventional refugee in 2009.

Refugees in many cases are forced to flee from war-torn countries, escaping the horror and destruction caused by warfare.

According to Citizenship and immigration Canada, Canada received more than 13,500 asylum claims in 2014.

Two Canadian refugees, Imabong and Irene, who don’t want their last names used for safety reasons, remember the struggles they faced when they first arrived in Canada. They both wanted to share their stories and talk about how their lives changed in Canada. They both laughed and cried.

Imabong came from Nigeria as an international student in 2004 to study at the University of Toronto. After two years, her situation changed. When she discovered that she couldn’t return home, she found herself homeless.

“It was a strange time in my life at the time I was homeless. It is interesting being homeless in a different country away from home,” Imabong said.

“I didn’t have any finances or support. I was sponsored one day, the next day the sponsorship wasn’t available anymore,” she explained.

For two years, she lived in the school’s residence. At the time the school knew that she had issues, so she was allowed to stay until the end of the school year.

“I knew that I wasn’t able to pay. I contacted the only person I knew, my registrar,” Imabong said. “She was the one who called the shelter, the YMCA Women’s Shelter.”

As reported by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Colombia has more refugee claims in Canada than any other country in South America.

Irene and her family left Colombia with her two children in 2000. Irene’s son was three years old and her daughter was two when they arrived in Orlando. One year later, Irene’s husband applied for asylum in the States. They worked, they bought a house, their kids were in school, when suddenly, they had to leave.

After being denied refugee status in the States,

 Irene, who doesn't want her last name used, arrived in Canada in 2009 with her husband and two children
Irene, who doesn’t want her last name used, arrived in Canada in 2009 with her husband and two children

in their red Volvo. They crossed the border from Quebec. Her husband’s friend, also from Colombia, was waiting for them in Toronto.

When they arrived in Toronto, they went to the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre, but the shelter was full.

“My husband’s friend, told us that we should go to Scarborough, because we would have a chance to get a shelter for all of us,” Irene said. “We went to the Toronto Family Resident. We were told that we had to wait at least for two days.”

Irene and her family stayed in a hotel for two days. Her husband was the main applicant. His refugee process started in 2009 and ended in 2011, when he received a letter in the mail from the immigration office. Irene opened the envelope and learned that the judge had denied her husband’s refugee claim.