Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Even here, refugees must stay strong

  • Print

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." -German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

That's true to a certain point. In 2013, the stories that touched me were about resilience that's tested to the breaking point: people who faced the worst of humanity and kept going as long as they could.

Related Items

Around the world, there are more than 10 million desperate people who fled their homes because of violence, famine and disaster. Those I've met who made it to safety in Winnipeg know their good fortune and they fear for those left behind.

Zeresenay Andemichael arrived here Sept. 13 as a sponsored refugee from Eritrea, a country that's been called the African version of North Korea. Weeks later, on Oct. 3, two of his cousins were among the 364 bodies recovered from the Mediterranean off the Italian island of Lampedusa. Merhawit Gebremichael Gebrekidan, 26, and her sister, Semhar Abraham Gebrehiwet, 22, fled Eritrea and had been staying at a UN refugee camp where food aid regularly went missing. They fled to Libya, paid a trafficker US$3,200 and waited to be crammed onto the next boat to Europe. They drowned on Oct. 3. In Winnipeg, Andemichael is grateful to be here but wants the world to know a humanitarian crisis is happening. People such as his cousins are literally dying to get somewhere they can survive.

"Their goal was to be in a safe place," he told me. Here, he deals with his grief, survivor's guilt and culture shock while trying to find a job, take classes and endures his first Manitoba winter that will hopefully make him stronger.

For others who've made it to safety here, the threat of being sent back to the place they fled hangs over their heads. Refugee claimants get one chance before an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator to plead their case to stay.

In October, I spent two days listening to refugee claimants from Somalia, Eritrea and Nigeria being questioned by an adjudicator who would decide their fate. There were amazing stories about escaping persecution and the long, risky odyssey that got them to where they are.

All the claimants had been in Canada for years. Two older women from Eritrea came to visit their dying sister and were staying with family in Winnipeg when they filed their refugee claims. The rest of the claimants were working or raising kids and were contributing, law-abiding members of society.

The mother of three little girls who fled Somalia as a child said it is not a good place to raise her daughters and she fears they will be persecuted and genitally mutilated if they're sent to the country where she was born.

In December, after weeks of waiting, all the claimants were rejected. The rejections stung but weren't a surprise.

The board member who heard their cases decided the claimants weren't people in need of protection. Somalia, for instance, isn't as dangerous as it used to be, so claimants have nothing to fear about being sent back there, the adjudicator said.

All the refugee claimants are in limbo now, hoping for appeals and waiting to be sent back to the places they fled. If they're sent back, I hope it makes them stronger -- if it doesn't kill them.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2014 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Police: Three or four infants' bodies found in storage locker

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012

View More Gallery Photos


Will you get out and vote for a new mayor and council?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google