It is a day he won’t forget. Walking up the steps, Misghina Tewahso reached out his hand and accepted a certificate of citizenship with his name on it.
After years of displacement, he and his family could finally call Canada home.
“We are so happy, we have no words,” he says smiling. “Others can visit home but we have nowhere to go back to. This is our home now.”
Tewahso was among 40 people to accept certificates of citizenship on April 27 at William D. Cuts Junior High School.
Taking up two rows in the front of the gymnasium, they recited the oath of citizenship, first in English and second in French, before being told they were officially Canadian citizens.
For Tewahso, this meant the end of a long and tumultuous journey.
In 2007, he says he made the difficult decision to leave his home country, Eritrea. He says the country prohibited democratic practices such as the freedom to practice religion. Without any identification papers in hand, he travelled to Ethiopia where he felt he could find freedom.
From Ethiopia he travelled to Sudan, where his partner, Eyerusalem Mihreteab, joined him three months later. They lived in Sudan for six months before he moved to Libya, where she joined him six months afterwards.
In 2011 they applied for sponsorship, but shortly afterwards war broke out in Libya.
A place originally thought of as a haven became a threat, and once again he was on the move. He left the country and moved to Tunisia and Mihreteab followed.
He says luckily, they only had to wait one month to get sponsored and in May 2011 the duo arrived in Canada.
On April 27 both received their citizenships, toting a newborn baby and three-year-old toddler.
“We are so happy,” he says. “It was very hard before and now we are here.”
The ceremony took place at William D. Cuts after Keith Johnson, social studies teacher at the school, wanted his Grade 9 social studies class to attend a citizenship ceremony.
He says after finding out ceremonies occur three times a week in Edmonton, he wanted to know what it would take to host it at the school.
“They said that schools are great places to hold these ceremonies because they can accommodate so many people,” he says, “And the opportunity for students to learn is tremendous and experience what these ceremonies are about.”
It took around two months of planning and on Thursday around 370 students sat in the atrium and watched as 40 people became Canadian citizens.
Hon Chow, 34, says when he received his certificate of citizenship it was a “dream come true”.
He moved from Hong Kong to Edmonton in 2003 in order to study pharmacy. Chow arrived on a student visa, and after graduating, applied to become a permanent resident.
“I’ve lived here for so long so I wanted to express my opinion and vote. So now I can do that,” he said.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada reported that Alberta received 9,178 applications for permanent residence last year.
This year the federal government plans to accept as many as 320,000 new immigrants through the 2017 immigration plan.
Arash Sarafrazi, 32, is another to receive citizenship. He arrived in Canada from Iran after getting married. His wife, already a Canadian citizen, had moved from Iran at a young age.
He says both families are close friends and when she visited Iran at 17 years old, they started getting closer. The two tied the knot six years ago and Sarafrazi arrived in Canada four years ago.
Now, he says he’s happy to call himself a Canadian.
“I’m so excited. I have to say thank you to the Government of Canada and to all the Canadians who accept me as a Canadian citizen.”