A family of four caught crossing the border into Canada illegally over the weekend said they were seeking asylum, scared of what the Donald Trump government will mean for them.
Speaking exclusively to CTV News’ David Molko on Monday, a family taken into custody Sunday morning said they felt it was time to leave the U.S.
Translating for her parents, 12-year-old Ashki Shkur said she and her father, mother and nine-year-old sister left their home in the Kurdish region of Iraq less than a year ago.
Her father, Ayub Nasralddin was a building inspector in Iraq, but worked as a delivery man in Virginia. He said they moved to the U.S. to make their dreams come true, “and to help people. That’s the only thing I want.”
They spent nine months in the States, but the election promises of the new president made them feel like it was time to move again.
“We were scared of him,” Ashki said.
So they stuffed everything they could into bags. Ashki brought over her report cards showing “A”s in some of her favourite subjects like science.
“I want to be a brain doctor,” she explained.
They went to Chicago, then Seattle, then took a taxi to the U.S.-Canada border. They walked into Canada just steps from the Peace Arch crossing.
Just a day before their illegal entry, two Turkish nationals crossed in the same area, and walked two blocks north before being arrested and turned over to Canadian Immigration Services. The area borders a park and has minimal security.
The family’s crossing was captured by a Reuters photographer who had been assigned to watch the border for potential crossings. Some of his photos showed Ashki being searched by an officer.
She said she’ll never forget the first person she met in Canada, a police officer who helped apprehend the family.
“They saw us and I was so happy I was trying to hug him,” she said.
“They said, ‘It’s OK. You are going to be safe,’ and that’s the only word that makes me happy.”
The Shkur family has been released from custody and has begun the process of applying for refugee status.
“I hope they don’t return us back,” Ashki said.
She translated for her father, “I hope that the people who see this know that the only (reason) I want to stay here is to make a better life. I hope the president of Canada doesn’t think like Donald Trump, that we are terrorists.”
While they wait, their first task will be to find somewhere to live, but it will be a challenge at a time when the number of newcomers to B.C. is skyrocketing.
Mario Ayala, executive director of the Inland Refugee Society, said his group helps about half of all asylum seekers in B.C. Last January, they helped 34 refugees. This year, they helped a staggering 98, an increase of 188 per cent.
In February 2016 they helped just under 50, while so far this month they’ve helped 62.
“We don’t have enough resources to support all these newcomers,” Ayala said.
“When they arrive here they don’t have anything. They don’t have any support. They don’t have money.”
Of the cases the Inland Refugee Society handles, 80 to 90 per cent are from the U.S., he said, and the majority of those stem from people crossing the border illegally.