Sometimes, it takes more than a village.
Ali* is 16 years old and he hasn’t seen his parents or siblings in three years.
In 2016, Ali’s mother Meryam and her three girls fled their home in the Afar region of Eritrea, joining many Afar people who had fled from Eritrea. They joined Idris, Ali’s father, who had fled earlier, in Ethiopia.
Idris and Meryam made an agonizing decision to have their son Ali cross separately, to avoid the dangers of the family crossing the border together with a young male. But after Meryam crossed, conditions worsened and it became extremely dangerous for Ali to attempt a crossing on his own.
OCRA volunteers have been working hard to reunite Ali with his family in Canada. We knew that Ali had to leave Eritrea for another country if we were going to be able to bring him to Canada. But the journey across Eritrea to Ethiopia is perilous; we knew that Ali would need help.
Help came from Omar*, a very brave man who had knowledge of the terrain. With Omar as guide, Ali left his village in Eritrea, walking for days, mostly at night and off-road, to reach the border area. This was a very dangerous journey for Ali. As an adolescent, he could not be caught avoiding conscription to military service or leaving the country.
At the border area, Ali ran the last 10 km through dangerous territory on his own, at night to cross into Ethiopia. He could have been shot if caught.
Once Ali crossed the border, another Eritrean adult helped him make the journey, again on foot and at night, to the relative safety of a refugee camp in northeastern Ethiopia, where Ali could register as having entered Ethiopia.
At the refugee camp, a close family friend named Yonas* provided shelter to Ali. But 16 year old Ali is essentially alone, with all of his family now in Canada. Communications are difficult, and the camp is dangerous for adolescents. He has had a harrowing journey and it isn’t over yet.
Because Ali’s family was sponsored to come to Canada before they were reunited, Ali is eligible to apply to join them within a year of their arrival here, subject to security and medical checks. Filling out the forms for Ali was easy, but getting signed documents from him was an international effort!
To start, an OCRA volunteer located two diminutive Eritrean women living in Ottawa who were travelling to Ethiopia to visit relatives. After polite introductions and a degree of discussion, the women made room for Ali’s application documents in the top zippered compartment of their enormous suitcases, already full of shipments to other Eritrean relatives with equally compelling needs.
The documents journeyed with the two women to Addis Ababa, and from there to Dawud*, an English-speaking relative of one of OCRA’s volunteers, who met the women in Addis. The documents now in Dawud’s car, had to go to Ali in the refugee camp over 650 km away.
It was no small feat getting the documents in Dawud’s passenger seat across Ethiopia to the refugee camp. The roads are nothing like Highway 417, and go through arduous country and a “wildlife reserve” (read: really big animals) with few gas stations.
At the camp, Dawud went by foot, carrying the documents, to locate Ali. Enter Yonas, the family friend, who welcomed Dawud, found Ali, and sat the three down to review, translate and confront the paperwork a refugee must complete for admission to Canada.
Under Dawud’s direction, each document was then explained to, signed and dated by young Ali. Signatures in hand, the stalwart Dawud drove another 300 km to the nearest courier in northeastern Ethiopia, and sent the documents back to Ottawa. Amazingly, they arrived in good order, just over a week later.
“Transporting” Ali to the Ethiopian refugee camp and getting the application documents to Ali and back, were two miracles! Three months after OCRA’s newest family arrived in Ottawa, we submitted our application to reunite Ali with his family, which was only possible because of the goodwill, bravery, and determination of a village of support spanning two continents, and one incredibly brave young man.
You can help OCRA reunite Ali with his family in Canada! Please donate now.
*Names of individuals outside Canada have been changed.
Image 1: Ali’s family on their first day in Canada.
Image 2: Ali’s father and youngest sister.
Image 3: OCRA volunteers greet Ali’s family at the Ottawa airport.