Asylum seekers facing uncertainty while navigating the immigration process

David Olorunleye came to Canada from Nigeria and hopes to continue his studies to become a teacher.  (Sarah Kester/CBC - photo credit)

David Olorunleye came to Canada from Nigeria and hopes to continue his studies to become a teacher. (Sarah Kester/CBC – photo credit)

David Olorunleye has been in Canada since last August and lives as a refugee in Cornwall, Ontario.

Olorunleye said he left his home in Nigeria in March and ended up in the United States before crossing the border into Canada.

“It was scary because I was alone. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” he said.

He said he left Nigeria because, as a gay man, it was no longer safe for him to live there.

“I am very grateful to Canada,” he said. “I didn’t expect to feel at home so quickly, but I feel at home in Canada and […] I am very grateful for that.”

Olorunleye is one of an estimated 779 asylum seekers living in two hotels in the town, according to the Mayor of Cornwall. In an interview with CBC Ottawa morningJustin Towndale said the city is unable to meet the needs of the growing number of asylum seekers and is trying to recoup costs from the federal government.

“We’re doing what we can — and we’ll continue to do what we can to help these people — but at some point we’ve got to step out,” Towndale told Robyn Breshnahan. “We will reach our limits”

In an email to CBC, a spokesman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said asylum seekers could be sent to four Ontario cities – Ottawa, Cornwall, Windsor and Niagara Falls – to ease pressure on Quebec.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault, in a letter obtained by Radio-Canada, urged Trudeau to divert all asylum seekers out of the province and said Quebec had done enough.

IRCC says it has been working with municipalities and provinces to help with temporary housing and is open to helping in other ways.

Looking for a new life

The refugees CBC News spoke to were from Afghanistan and Nigeria. They fled their homes in fear for their lives, leaving behind family members, jobs and an unfinished education. All things they hope to find again here in Canada.

“I did my Bachelor of Business Administration but would like to continue my studies in Canada. But as a refugee, I don’t see any opportunities to apply for it,” says a man from Afghanistan. CBC News is protecting his identity because he still has family at home and he’s concerned for their safety.

He worked with the former government in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power and said it had become unsafe for him to remain in the country.

He first went to Brazil before traveling to the United States, eventually crossing the land border in Quebec before ending up in Cornwall.

Mohammad Salim also came from Afghanistan. He has left his family at home and hopes that one day they will be able to join him in Canada.

“I thought let’s go somewhere where I can at least support myself and at least bring my family and have them learn here at school and for their better future,” Salim said.

He has been in Cornwall since September and has just received his work permit. He hopes to find a job so he can earn some money and catch up with his family.

“It was difficult days […] and nice days too,” he said.

“I thought about my family. My mother, my father and I have three children. It was a difficult moment for me,” said Salim.

“I hope to move on with my life”

For all of the refugees CBC spoke to, it is now a time of uncertainty and waiting as they make their way through the Canadian immigration system.

Olorunleye said he was given an appointment for his hearing, but he knows many people are still waiting. He hopes the wait will soon be behind him.

“I hope to get on with my life as soon as possible,” he said.

“I want to go back to school, graduate and work as soon as possible,” Olorunleye said. He says he wants to finish his teaching degree.


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