Walking through canola fields near the US-Canada border in Gretna, Man., refugees Abdikadir Ahmed Omar and Guled Abdi Omar reached their destination after a 400-day trek.
The two men, who were fleeing Somalia, had travelled across 15 borders, over three continents and spent almost $40,000 by the time the two asylum seekers reached Canada on July 2.
“It was the happiest moment. I am in Canada, and I am relaxed …. I am not being chased by the police in the United States, I am not being put into detention. I am a free man,” Ahmed Omar told CBC News.
Watch CBC’s video of Guled Abdi Omar here .
Ahmed Omar left Somalia after his home was attacked by the militant Islamist group al-Shabaab in June 2016. Shortly after, Abdi Omar left eastern Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp when al-Shabaab tried to recruit him.
The men took flights to Brazil and opted to travel mostly by foot from there to Canada. They met in Choluteca, Honduras, in January and decided to travel together for the remainder of the trip.
This well-known migration route winds north from Brazil through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Once they reached Mexico City, Ahmed Omar and Abdi Omar had a hard time finding beds in migrant hostels, and the Mexican government offered only a temporary humanitarian visa to travel through the country. Travelling through the US did not seem wise for the men at this time — it was February and US President Donald Trump had just announced the travel ban.
“I am a black man, I am a Muslim, and I am a Somali. So in three ways, it is not possible for me to go to the United States,” Ahmed Omar told CBC News in February.
Still, the travel companions decided to head to Tijuana after doing some research. They jumped the wall that separates Mexico from the United States on April 9.
After they jumped over, they were met by men on motorbikes and arrested by armed border patrol agents.
“The first person I talked to or engaged with was a border security agent who was well-geared like a commando guy, and he told me: ‘Where are you from?’ I answered, ‘Somalia’,” Ahmed Omar told CBC News. “And he told me: ‘You are a f–king terrorist.'”
Security and asylum interviews were arranged after the pair was arrested and they were sent to the Otay Mesa Immigration Detention Center in San Diego.
After being held for 40 days, Ahmed Omar was released on bond for almost $6,000 USD. Abdi Omar was released on bond June 6 for $1,500 USD.
Abdi Omar went to St. Cloud, Minn., for Ramadan. He met people he says he had grown up with in the refugee camp and they advised him to head for Canada. They said they worried about deportation in the United States, even after coming to the country legally.
The two then set off for Canada from Minnesota. A man drove them to the border for $700 USD and pointed out the way.
They waited for nightfall and walked across the fields towards the border.
“I felt like I was a human when they captured me. They told me I was under arrest but they didn’t put me in handcuffs, they just take me to the border, gave me some food, blankets and water,” Abdi Omar told CBC News.
After that, the men were sent to Gretna, a small Mennonite community, where they were brought to temporary migrant housing.
Ahmed Omar said that they were quickly invited by local teenagers to play soccer and square dance.
“I feel like I am at home. I come from the border, and in hours, I am in the school dancing, playing soccer, drinking water, eating watermelon with the whole community, the local people.”
The next step in this process are their refugee board hearings, which are supposed to take place within three months.