The “welcoming committee” awaits the arrival of Munir Mahmoud and Yassin Ibrahim at the Comox Valley Airport. Photo by Terry Farrell

VIDEO: Vancouver Island welcomes Eritrean refugees

Comox Valley-based organizer Idris also fled Eritrea back in 2008

Two refugees are being welcomed on to Vancouver Island, having fled their home country of Eritrea.

They are being sponsored by the new group, Comox Valley Friends of Refugees (CVFR), and arrived at the Comox Airport on Thursday night.

Munir Mahmoud, 25, fled his country for Sudan in 2015, then went to Egypt last year, while Yassin Ibrahim, 24, left Eritrea for Sudan two years ago and, like Mahmoud, moved to Egypt. Both have been working in schools tutoring math and English in Cairo, Egypt prior to their arrival in Canada.

A small contingent of welcomers was at the Comox Valley Airport to greet Mahmoud and Ibrahim when they arrived, on the day’s last flight in from Vancouver.

“I am so happy to be here in Canada,” said Ibrahin, after hugs, reacquaintances and introductions were finished.

“It has been a long journey. We appreciate the welcome,” said Mahmoud, who added he is looking forward to some sleep, after the 33-hour journey.

The CVFR group started up in September. One of the organizers, Adem Salim Idris, himself escaped from Eritrea back in 2008, and eventually got his United Nations refugee status.

“The decision to leave home is very difficult, especially when you’re 18,” he said.

To help people in distress like Mahmoud and Ibrahim, CVFR works with a sponsorship agreement holder, the East Kootenay Friends of Refugees Society, to bring refugees to the Comox Valley. The group brought two other Eritreans to the region in September, Idris’s brother Mahdi and sister Mahasen, who have already both found employment.

“If people would like more information about the group Comox Valley Friends of Refugees or would like to donate household [goods], financial support, volunteer or have any employment leads – they can reach us at cv.friends.refugees@gmail.com,” said Idris. “We do not yet have a website as we have just launched but we plan to create one in the near future.”

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Eritrea, on the horn of Africa along the continent’s eastern coast, gained independence from Ethiopia following a referendum in 1993 but has lacked political stability. After its secession, the country become embroiled in war with Ethiopia along the border, with the government conscripting people to fight. Even after fighting stopped, the ruling party continued to conscript people. As well, the country has experienced forced labour, disappearances, killings and a crackdown on basic human rights.

“In Eritrea … everybody knows where you live, and they will come at your bed when you’re sleeping, if they want you,” Idris said.

Because of this, Idris decided to leave Eritrea in 2008, first for Sudan, after walking about 10 days.

“The only way out is basically on foot,” he said.

READ MORE: Syrian family set to arrive in the Valley this spring

Sudan, itself, had its own problems, though he adds it has gotten worse now for recent refugees. He made his way to Canada in 2011, first to Cranbrook, B.C., as he was sponsored by his high school teachers and their group, the East Kootenay Friends of Refugees Society. He finished his secondary school and earned a bachelor’s degree of applied science in environmental engineering through UNBC and UBC. He moved to the Comox Valley in 2015 and now works with the regional district.

On its website, Amnesty International says, “Thousands continued to flee Eritrea while the authorities severely restricted the right to leave the country. Indefinite mandatory national service continued to be imposed. Restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and of religion remained. Arbitrary detention without charge or trial continued to be the norm for thousands of prisoners of conscience.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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Adem Idris greets Yassin Ibrahim (right) and Munir Mahmoud (left).

Munir Mahmoud and Yassin Ibrahim are greeted by fellow Eritrean immigrants Adem and Mahdi Idris, at the Comox Valley Airport. Photo by Terry Farrell

Munir Mahmoud, Yassin Ibrahim, and the Comox Valley Friends of Refugees welcoming committee pose for a group shot before heading home from the Comox Valley Airport. Photo by Terry Farrell

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