Somali refugee takes amazing road from refugee camps to Victoria city council

Somali refugee takes amazing road from refugee camps to Victoria city council

VICTORIA — It was one of the happiest days of his life, but Sharmarke Dubow says he was paralyzed with emotion the day he was sworn in as a member of Victoria city council.

Dubow said he couldn’t smile and his words were a barely audible mumble as he reflected back on his journey from Somalia’s civil war to a refugee camp in Kenya and finally to Victoria City Hall.

Now, Dubow, 35, who was born on Christmas Day, can’t stop smiling or talking.

He became a Canadian citizen on July 1, 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary, and was elected to city council in November. It was the first time he’d voted, anywhere.

“I was holding myself to cry,” he said in a recent interview. “The reason why I was not smiling is there were so many emotions. I could not believe to be the voice for people in Victoria and to represent them.”

Dubow is six-foot-four and thinly built. He smiles broadly and laughs joyously as he retraces his journey from a refugee camp to city council at a downtown coffee shop.

He gets up to hug people who offer him their best wishes and gushes about meeting Canadian figure skating icons Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir earlier in the day at a Salvation Army Christmas fundraising event.

“Tessa told me I should write a book,” said Dubow.

He said Canada gave him a home and his election to council gives him the chance to give back.

“When I became a Canadian citizen I felt I have a home, I have rights and responsibilities,” said Dubow. “It was all about me having a second chance at life, belonging to a country and being a proud Canadian. But when I’m elected, it’s not about me. It’s holding a huge responsibility and knowing I have a huge curve of learning.”

He was eight years old when his mother put him and his sister on a boat fleeing strife in Somalia. Dubow said they crossed the Indian Ocean by moonlight and landed at Mombasa, Kenya, where he lived in a tent and camp for five years with hundreds of others.

“I remember my mother putting two jackets, two trousers in a case and telling me to hold my sister’s hand. I remember looking back at my mother,” said Dubow, whose mother was able to join them in the camp after a later boat voyage.

Dubow said he built a bed of bamboo sticks and recalled camp life being one of daily struggles and of frightened people looking for their next meal and trying to make a living. He said the United Nations stepped in to ensure the camp was permitted to exist.

Dubow said his life as a refugee and stateless person influenced him to become an advocate for human rights across Africa and ultimately brought him to Canada where he took a job at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society.

“In Kenya, I was in a camp. In Ethiopia I was undocumented, meaning I was not registered under the United Nations Human Rights Commission or the Ethiopian government,” he said. “In Egypt I was a refugee. I wasn’t in a camp but I was a refugee under the UN HRC. They never gave me a chance to become a citizen and be part of the society.”

Dubow said he was an outsider without rights, until he came to Canada in 2012.

“Canada gave me that chance,” he said. “Victoria lifted me up. People have lifted me up and given me that chance.”

Dubow said Canada gave him a safe home after 20 years of being homeless.

“We have a system that works, that will protect my rights regardless of my sexuality, my race, my background,” he said. “I am able to sleep and not worry about bullets coming through my wall.”

Dubow said it may sound like a contradiction, but despite having spent much of his young life in a refugee camp, one of his favourite things to do in Canada is pitch a tent and sit around a campfire.

“Living in Canada, and camping for leisure, for a date, it’s a different lifestyle brother,” he said. “When you wake up, all the grass is high and it reflects the sun, and sometimes I don’t want it to, but it takes me back and reminds me of who I am.”

Dubow said he is still a newcomer to the workings of municipal politics. After years of challenging governments on refugee issues, he wants to use his new position as an elected councillor to give back and bring people together.

“The best way is having tea and sitting with people from all walks of life.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19.  (File photo)
Gov’t reports two more COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer on Sunday

Nineteen new deaths, including two in Red Deer, were reported by the… Continue reading

Andre Lemus, the owner of Las Palmeras in Red Deer, says he hopes in-person dining restrictions are lifted this upcoming Thursday. (Photo courtesy www.laspalmeras.ca)
Red Deer restaurant owner hopes in-person dining restrictions are lifted Thursday

The owner of a Red Deer restaurant says business has “dropped” since… Continue reading

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A cat named Willow is shown in this recent handout photo. Victoria firefighter Capt. Tim Hanley says using a jackhammer and other home repair tools to save a cat stuck in a tiny basement drainpipe ranks as the strangest rescue call he's been on in his 20-year career. Hanley says he and three other firefighters spent more than two hours using sledgehammers and a jackhammer to break through Victoria homeowner Emma Hutchinson's concrete basement floor to free Willow, a nine-month-old kitten. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Twitter, City of Victoria
Victoria firefighters use homeowners’ jackhammer to rescue cat trapped in tiny pipe

VICTORIA — A Victoria firefighter says using a jackhammer and other home… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party: O’Toole

OTTAWA — Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says there is “no place… Continue reading

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage addresses the attendees while Tom Olsen, Managing Director of the Canadian Energy Centre, looks on at a press conference at SAIT in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Fulmes
‘Morally and ethically wrong:’ Court to hear challenge to Alberta coal policy removal

First Nations, ranchers, municipal officials and environmentalists hope to persuade a judge… Continue reading

Sub-Lt. Jeffrey Delisle arrives at Nova Scotia provincial court for a sentencing hearing in Halifax on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canada’s spy-catching system caused delay, angst in Delisle case: former FBI official

OTTAWA — The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s former head of counter-intelligence… Continue reading

People wait to be screened before entering Little Mountain Place, a long-term care home that has had 41 residents die since a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the facility in November in Vancouver on Sunday, January 3, 2021. Staff in long-term care homes across Canada are struggling to isolate elderly residents with dementia during COVID-19 outbreaks, accelerating the deadly spread of the virus, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Care home staff struggle to isolate dementia patients during outbreaks: experts

VANCOUVER — Staff in long-term care homes across Canada are struggling to… Continue reading

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what's fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26) just misses the net against goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during  scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Jets return to practice a day after suspending workouts due to COVID concerns

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have returned to practice a day after… Continue reading

Most Read