Asylum seekers facing uncertainty as they navigate immigration process

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

David Olorunleye has been in Canada since last August, living as a refugee in Cornwall, Ont.

Olorunleye said he left his home in Nigeria in March, ending up in the United States before walking across the border into Canada.

"It was scary 'cause I was by myself. I wasn't sure what was gonna happen," he said.

He said he left Nigeria because, as a gay man, it wasn't safe for him to live there anymore.

"I'm very grateful for Canada," he said. "I wasn't expecting to feel at home so quickly, but I do feel at home in Canada and [...] I'm very grateful for that."

Olorunleye is one of an estimated 779 asylum seekers living at two hotels in the city, according to Cornwall's mayor. In an interview with CBC's Ottawa Morning, Justin Towndale said the city is unable to meet the needs of the growing number of asylum seekers and is looking to recoup costs from the federal government.

"We're doing what we can — and we will continue to do what we can to help these people — but at some point, we're going to have to tap out," Towndale told Robyn Breshnahan. "We're going to hit our limit."

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said asylum seekers may be sent to four cities in Ontario — Ottawa, Cornwall, Windsor and Niagara Falls — in order to help relieve the pressure on Quebec.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault asked Trudeau in a letter obtained by Radio-Canada to redirect all asylum seekers from the province, saying Quebec has done enough.

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

Looking for a new life

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

"I did my Bachelor of Business Administration but I would like to continue my further studies in Canada. But as a refugee I do not see any opportunities to apply for those things," said one man from Afghanistan. CBC News is protecting his identity because he still has family back home and he is worried about their safety.

He was working with the former government in Afghanistan before the Taliban took over and said it became unsafe for him to stay in the country.

He first went to Brazil before travelling to the U.S. and eventually crossing the land border in Quebec before ending up in Cornwall.

Mohammad Salim also came from Afghanistan. He left his family back home and is hoping they will one day be able to join him in Canada.

"I thought that let's go somewhere that I can at least support myself and at least I bring my family and that they study here in school and for their brighter future," Salim said.

He's been in Cornwall since September and has just secured his work permit. He's hoping to find a job so he can make some money and bring his family over.

"It was difficult days [...] and also nice days," he said.

"I was thinking about my family. My mother, my father and I have three children. So it was difficult moment for me," Salim said.

'Hoping to get on with my life'

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

Olorunleye said he's been given a date for his hearing, but he knows many people who are still waiting. He's hopeful that he will be done waiting soon.

"I'm hoping to get on with my life as soon as possible," he said.

"I'm looking to get back in school as soon as I can and I complete my degree and go into work," Olorunleye said. He says he wants to complete his teaching degree.