A governor who fled Somalia for his life was granted refugee protection on the same day as his Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada hearing Monday.
“I am appreciating the Canadian government and the opportunity I was given,” Noor Ahmed Hassan said through an interpreter after board member Nick Bower in Vancouver told him via videoconference that he was granted refugee protection.
“I was excited,” said Hassan who was named governor of the Galguduud region of Somalia in September 2017 — putting him in the crosshairs of al-Shabaab terrorists and opposition militia.
After surviving decades of civil war and terror attacks — including Somalia’s largest in October 2017 that killed nearly 600 people at Mogadishu’s Safari Hotel — the greatest threat to his life was being appointed to lead one of the country’s 18 administrative regions. Like the slain governor (Mohamed Dahir Ali Elmi) he was to replace, Hassan became a target for al-Shabaab terrorists trying to overrun the country, as well as an armed opposition. On Monday, he said he wasn’t surprised that he was recognized as a bona fide refugee.
“I was expecting to be accepted because there was a lot of evidence and documents,” said Hassan, 47. “I was prepared.”
He had links to news coverage and media interviews from his time in regional government in Somalia, as well as reports about what happened to the governor he replaced. Hassan was held hostage and beaten by opposition militia before making a refugee claim in Canada after attending a conference in Las Vegas on a visitors visa a year ago.
“When you are governor of a region like this gentleman is, you’re an endangered species,” said Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan, who represented Hassan at his refugee protection hearing.
“The refugee convention of 1951 was written with governors like this in mind who would come to Manitoba (seeking protection),” Khan said. “Al -Shabaab will attack anyone who can make a difference. Their job is to destabilize the Somali state.”
Hassan said he’s planning to take English-language classes and apply for permanent residence and apply for his wife and dependant children — who are in an undisclosed location in Somalia — so they can join him in Canada.
“They are very much happy,” he said of the news he shared with his family Monday. “This was the hope they’ve been waiting for.”