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.”

Just Posted

Shanna Lydiard is upset to have had mail delivery cut off last month to her West Park street because of water main reconstruction. Delivery is to resume by May 19 at the latest, according to the City of Red Deer. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Red Deer woman frustrated by mail delivery suspension due to construction

Shanna Lydiard said residents shouldn’t have to drive across the city for their mail

Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen received his COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday at Jackson’s Pharmacy in Innisfail. (Devin Creeshen Twitter photo)
COVID-19: Most local MLAs have received their first vaccine shot

Alberta’s NDP is encouraging all MLAs to get vaccinated and publicly promote… Continue reading

Alberta continues to wrestle with high COVID-19 case numbers. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer up to 858 active cases of COVID-19

Province reports additional 1,799 cases of the virus

Bo's Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening.
(Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

The Bowden Institution medium security facility near Bowden has 15 active COVID-19 cases. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)
15 active COVID-19 cases at Bowden prison

Bowden Institution has had 36 positive cases this year with 21 recovered and no deaths

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer and several members of city council helped kick off the spring Green Deer cleanup campaign on Wednesday. Veer said city workers do their best to keep the city looking good, but need volunteer help to get rid of litter that has blown into bushes onto road sides over the winter. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff)
Red Deer city councillors launch spring Green Deer campaign

Volunteers are needed to keep the city looking good

FILE - In this Feb. 29, 2020, file photo, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre speaks at Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2020, in Oxon Hill, Md. Federal Judge Harlin Hale announced his decision Tuesday, May 11, 2021, to dismiss the National Rifle Association's bankruptcy case over whether the powerful gun-rights group should be allowed to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, after 11 days of testimony and arguments. Lawyers for New York and the NRA's former advertising agency grilled the group's embattled top executive, LaPierre, who acknowledged putting the NRA into Chapter 11 bankruptcy without the knowledge or assent of most of its board and other top officers. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Judge dismisses NRA bankruptcy case in blow to gun group

Judge dismisses NRA bankruptcy case in blow to gun group

Hassan Diab holds a news conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Friday, February 7 , 2020.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Canada must not extradite Diab regardless of coming French court decision: lawyer

Canada must not extradite Diab regardless of coming French court decision: lawyer

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. Vancouver's mayor says he understands that some drug users aren't happy with the city's proposed model for decriminalization but time is of the essence and the details can be worked out later. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time for drug decriminalization redo

Vancouver mayor says there’s no time for drug decriminalization redo

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Saskatchewan Mountie charged with first-degree murder after man found dead in woods

Saskatchewan Mountie charged with first-degree murder after man found dead in woods

Garneau quarantine travel to Iceland raises government confusion over rules

Garneau quarantine travel to Iceland raises government confusion over rules

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. After repeatedly voting non-confidence in the minority Liberal government, the Bloc Quebecois is now calling on the government to do everything possible to avoid an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BQ calls on Liberals to avoid pandemic election, despite voting non-confidence

BQ calls on Liberals to avoid pandemic election, despite voting non-confidence

U.K. study says expect more reactions from mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines

U.K. study says expect more reactions from mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

Most Read