News / Winnipeg

Somali refugee claimants bide time in Salvation Army with popular game from home

Elmi, 35, and Sharmarke, 29, are among more than 200 claimants who have sought refuge in Canada after walking across the U.S. border this year.

Ladu is a popular board game among the Somali refugee claimants staying at the Salvation Army.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski/For Metro

Ladu is a popular board game among the Somali refugee claimants staying at the Salvation Army.

For refugee claimants arriving in Winnipeg, a board game made out of a bed sheet is providing a little bit of comfort while they stay at a homeless shelter.

Elmi, 35, and Sharmarke, 29, fled Somalia separately and met while on route to Emerson, Man. on March 1.

The Manitoba border town has seen more than 200 asylum seekers arrive since Jan. 1, according to data provided by the RCMP last week.

Elmi and Sharmarke are now staying temporarily at the Salvation Army Booth Centre, where as many as 90 refugee claimants have stayed per night since mid-February. That’s the maximum number the Salvation Army can handle space-wise, said spokesman Sgt. Rob Kerr.

Those staying at the homeless shelter have sketched a game called Ladu onto a bed sheet in pen.

The sheet is strewn across the dining room table in the second-floor common area. They've scrounged up men from a leftover chess set and some spare change to use as game tokens.

The object of the game, they explain, is to move all your tokens around the board and find safety at the centre. You roll the dice (in this case, inside a plastic water bottle lid à la Yahtzee) and then move the allotted number of spaces while trying to evade your opponents.

"If we stayed in the United States, we don’t have visas for the United States because of the new President Trump. That is why I run — because Donald Trump will do deportation," said Sharmarke during a Ladu game Friday.

Elmi and Sharmarke met while making the trip to Emerson, Man. from Minneapolis. Now they're staying at the Salvation Army in Winnipeg temporarily.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski/For Metro

Elmi and Sharmarke met while making the trip to Emerson, Man. from Minneapolis. Now they're staying at the Salvation Army in Winnipeg temporarily.

Elmi said leaving Somalia was necessary for both men because "we’ve got troubles. Civil war.” 

Asked if they spent much time in the United States before heading north, Elmi said he spent a "long time" in a detention centre in Nebraska. "Five hundred days," he repeated thrice for emphasis.

Not wanting to get detained, Sharmarke said he fled Minneapolis, Minn. after four months.

Now the former tomato and corn farmers want to move to Toronto, where Canada’s Somali population is most concentrated.

Still, they have many questions about their new homeland: What’s the name of the river? How long is it? Where’s the hottest place in Canada? As for this latter question, they would like to move there because they hate Winnipeg's snow.

But first thing's first, they await confirmation of their refugee board hearing dates, which were scheduled to come down the pipeline this week.

Elmi ultimately wins the 40-minute round of Ladu, while a half-dozen refugee claimants sit in the adjoining living room. They're watching Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale talk about their border crossings on TV. 

Refugee claimants living temporarily at the Salvation Army Booth Centre watch a televised press conference with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale Friday.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski/For Metro

Refugee claimants living temporarily at the Salvation Army Booth Centre watch a televised press conference with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale Friday.

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