"I am a fifty five year old, single mother of a 13-year-old son, who arrived in Canada in 2006. Here is my story."
I am a Jehovah Witness and my choice in religion is what has led me on the following journey. I was born and raised in Eritrea, which is the African country north of Sudan. I never received a formal education in my home country and when I chose to follow this religion I had to practise in secret. I hid my beliefs from my family and the Eritrean society because this religion is not tolerated and individuals often suffer discrimination and persecution. My family found I was practising my religion and demanded
I refrain from following the Jehovah Witness religion or leave home. With this ultimatum of my family and being afraid of Eritrean society in general, I left my home in 1995 and went to live in Sudan as a refugee.
While in Sudan I met my husband, but once again I had to hide my choice of religion and I was not able to find any other Jehovah Witnesses to confide in. My husband soon got a job in Saudi Arabia and I followed him. In Saudi Arabia, practising religions other than Islam is forbidden. For a long time I did not meet any other Jehovah Witnesses and had to continue to hide my faith. Later I met a friend at a party and she disclosed that she was a Jehovah Witness and we began to praise in secret, at the American and Italian Embassies and sometimes at my home when my husband was working.
In 1998 I was careless and left notes and literature lying around the house and my husband discovered I was a member. He immediately went to the officials telling of my faith and asked for a divorce. He was granted this and now as a divorced woman with a child I was not allowed to work. I had no income and no means of support and no way to take care of my child. My friends and the church tried to help but even then we did not always have enough to eat. I was afraid once again and remained cut off from my family in Eritrea, knowing they wanted nothing to do with me.
A Saudi Prince felt sorry for my story and financially helped me to make arrangements to get to the United States, where I lived in South Dakota and received help from a cousin. I was finally able to practise my faith there. Even though I did not speak English I made friends and attended services regularly. Because of this language barrier I was only able to get minimal work. My asylum claim was rejected by the American Immigration system several times, and each time I hired a lawyer to appeal this decision. I worked very hard to pay for these lawyers and appealed four times. I paid $35,000 in lawyer's fees but was still denied.
Finally in 2006, I learned that other Eritreans in my situation go to the Canadian border in Buffalo and contact the local shelter. I cannot return to my home country as I will be discriminated against and my son will be taken from me to attend the army, which is against our religious beliefs.
We arrived in Canada and traveled to London, Ontario, where we continue to reside. I had no home and very meager belongings when we first arrived. We stayed at a homeless shelter for families and received help from shelter staff as well as local cultural community agencies to find a home and work within the Immigration system. We stayed in the shelter for about two months and were lucky to be offered a geared to income housing unit. Rental prices are so high in London and finding affordable safe housing is very difficult.
My family is on Social Assistance and I am fortunate to now be able to study English as I have been illiterate all of my life. I am happy to learn the language and look forward to contributing to the Canadian society. I pray daily that our Immigration claim will be approved, this is the daily fear I now face. I no longer fear practising my chosen religion. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.