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Master’s degree a family first for Absher

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Before they came to Canada, Nafisa Absher’s family spent years moving through the Middle East in search of a home.

HENRYTYE GLAZEBROOK

Though her upbringing was steeped in Somali culture, Absher and her siblings have never set foot in the country in which their roots lay. Instead, their formative years were spread across Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Syria before they were able to secure a permanent home in Canada.

And through it all, the then-13 year-old Absher gained a profound appreciation for the single mother who strained and toiled ceaselessly to give her children opportunities that she never had.

“My mom worked really hard to make sure that, even though things were difficult, we never felt like we were living in poverty or being discriminated against,” said the University of Saskatchewan master’s student. “She always made sure that we were comfortable and felt like we were at home.

“Now that I’m older and have talked to her, I’m realizing that the stuff she’s been through is beyond my mind. I feel so grateful for my mom to have gone through all that for us to be here, and for me to sit here today and say I’m getting my master’s and I’m the first woman in my family to attain post-secondary education.”

Absher’s family found a home in Regina, where she attended high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Regina. From there, she looked to the U of S as the place where she could pursue her master’s in the School of Public Health, without straying too far from the family she holds so dear. “I’ve always had a passion to improve the health of marginalized communities with an integrative approach, and I wanted to pursue a career that would enable me to address health inequities from a population level,” said Absher, who completed the Master of Public Health program this year and received her degree at spring convocation.

Coming from the U of R was difficult at first for Absher, who says the U of S proved a larger and more daunting school at the outset. Feeling that graduate students are often isolated from campus activities, Absher became involved with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) as a way of carving out a place on campus and helping to build community among fellow graduate students.

By her final year, Absher was helping lead the GSA as its vice-president operations and communications. This past year, Absher focused on the internal operations of the GSA, including the supervision of the staff, co-ordinating the GSA bursary selection process, overseeing the implementation of additional programs and services, and advocating for additional financial support for graduate students.

Absher recalls her final year of study fondly, when as the recipient of the Dr. James Rossiter MPH Practicum Award, she took on a 12-week placement with Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health branch in Regina.

Absher said the experience was one of the highlights of her school year, as she conducted interviews to help build a framework for developing a comprehensive regional surveillance plan. The resulting data could then be used to empower Indigenous communities to improve and protect their own health and well-being.

“It really did reaffirm my passion for working with underserved communities and working in the area of health inequities, and doing it from the point of view of epidemiology and health policy,” she said.

These days, Absher is reflecting on the influence her mother’s experience has had on her upbringing, stretching from her beginnings a half a world away and through to her chosen career-path today.

“She makes me more passionate about the work that I’m in, and makes me want to work even harder to help people who are going through similar experiences and feel they don’t have a voice—to offer my support,” she said.

Canada

Canada’s institutions repeatedly failed former child refugee Abdoul Abdi

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The ethical case to fight the deportation of former child refugee Abdoul Abdi from Canada is a straightforward one with no visible shades of grey.

Yet it has ballooned into a needless battle exposing federal and provincial indifference to non-citizen children.

On Feb. 15, a Federal Court will hear an emergency request to temporarily stop Abdi’s deportation.

The broad strokes of Abdi’s story are these.

Instability was the only constant in the life of this man, born 24 years ago in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi father and Somali mother. He lived for four years at a refugee camp in Djibouti and then at age 6 landed in Canada along with his sister and aunts.

At age 8, child protective services scooped him and his sister out of their aunt’s home for reasons unknown. This is not surprising — research in Ontario last year showed Aboriginal and Black children are far more likely to be investigated and taken into care than white children.

The family now speculates this could be because their aunt, who didn’t speak much English, took too long to register them for school.

Abdi bounced around among not one or two or a dozen homes but 31 of them, some, he says, abusive situations. A study last year by Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth linked foster care experiences to later outcomes of homelessness and criminality, among others.
Abdi, too, got sucked into illegal activities.

When he messed up, he faced the consequences. About four years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

He is also paying the price for errors by the system.

On Jan. 4, no alarm bells were sounded in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Canada, when Canada Border Services Agency officers arrested Abdi as he left prison after serving his sentence and was at the gates of a halfway house.

They were going to deport him, they said. Send him packing because it turned out the kid who grew up in Canada was not a Canadian citizen. His crown parents — the Department of Community Services — had never applied for a citizenship for him.

Where was he being banished? Not to Saudi, his birthplace, which might have been the logical though still unjustifiable choice, but to Somalia, the place of his mother’s ethnic origins, a place so dangerous that Canadian officials and planes don’t go there. A place whose language Abdi does not speak, and where he knows no one.

Repeatedly abandoned as a child, Abdi is now an officially unwanted adult.

It has taken a village, for us to hear of Abdi.

More accurately, it has taken a set of extraordinarily large-hearted individuals, many of whom have never met Abdi, but who are tied together by a passionate rejection of injustice to bring his story to the forefront of our nation’s conscience.

Last month, Halifax poet laureate and activist El Jones chronicled in the Halifax Examiner just one week of the collective action taken for Abdi.

In it she wove the stories of disparate lives criss-crossing through past injustices. How Jones came across Abdi via Coralee Smith, the mother of Ashley Smith who died in 2007, asphyxiated from a ligature tied around her neck as correctional officers watched.

How Abdi’s sister Fatouma courageously challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Nova Scotia, thereby ensuring national attention on this case.

How Jones and journalist/activist Desmond Cole questioned Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen at a National Black Summit in that city, and endured criticisms of being disruptive and rude and not supporting a fellow Black minister.

“As though,” Jones writes, “having a Black man sign the deportation papers is progress.”

She writes of Abdi’s “fantastic” lawyer Ben Perryman who finds himself suddenly under the glare of media spotlight.

And of the near-misses, the small successes, the support and amplification from Black Lives Matter and academics/activists Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi, and student activist Masuma Khan among others.

Here is an important thing:

“All of us have jobs, and school, and families,” she writes. “This isn’t even the only thing we’re advocating on this week, because there’s always more suffering, more rights being denied, more people in need.”

Yet Jones writes of hope, and of love that carries them forward.

Their undertaking serves to underline the inhumanity of the decisions that mark this case.

Federal minister of public safety Ralph Goodale refused to pause a deportation hearing while Abdi’s lawyers mount a constitutional challenge to his deportation. At its hearing on March 7, the Immigration and Refugee Board will not review the complexities of the case to decide if Abdi can enter or remain in the country, his lawyer told the CBC. His criminal record will inevitably lead to a deportation order, he said.

A deportation order would automatically strip Abdi’s permanent resident status.

No PR status means he can’t keep his job, means he risks going back to prison; being employed is a condition for his release.

And round and round it goes.

This is the face of institutions ganging up against vulnerable individuals. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an audience in Quebec it’s time to recognize anti-Black racism exists in Canada. “Canada can and must do better,” he said.

What are we waiting for?

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Canada

Ottawa police identify Northview Road homicide victim as Egal Daud

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CBC — Ottawa police have identified the man found dead inside a vehicle in Nepean Sunday as Egal Daud, 30, and say he was fatally shot.
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Daud’s body was found inside a parked car on Northview Road, near the intersection of Baseline and Merivale roads, around 10 a.m.
The Ottawa police major crime unit, which is leading the investigation, said his body may have been there since Saturday.

Staff Sgt. Bruce Pirt added on Sunday police didn’t yet know if the shooting happened there, or if that’s just where the vehicle was left.

Anyone with information is asked to call the major crime unit at 613-236-1222 extension 5493 or give an anonymous tip via Crime Stoppers or the Ottawa police app.

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Canada

WATCH: Canada under fire for bid to deport Somali refugee

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Canada is facing criticism from human rights groups for its attempts to deport a 24-year-old immigrant to Somalia. Abdoul Abdi was born in Saudi Arabia and he says he has no ties to Somalia, where there have been years of violence from the armed group al-Shabab.

For now, the deportation is postponed while his lawyers ask a court to allow him to stay.

Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak reports from Toronto.

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