In cases of life or death, Legal Aid Alberta guides refugees to safety in Canada

“You’re saving lives and saving families, and giving people hope.”

Communications and Public Relations
March 19, 2021

Political debate and commentary on social media is often highly charged. In our democracy we value our right to speak critically of governments, without recrimination. That’s not the case everywhere.

For Muhanad Shaukat, speaking out against the military regime in Sudan ended with death threats from the government he’d criticized on social media.

“Most of my friends who were active on social media there were arrested by General Hemeti and his military,” he said, adding that some of them haven’t been seen since their arrest.

“I was advised that if I returned to Sudan—I would be arrested and executed. My friends have told me to stay away.”

When he was a child, Muhanad’s parents, hoping for a better life for their family, travelled to Oman. Muhanad grew up there and attended university in India.

Through the years, the family’s connections to Sudan remained strong. They visited regularly.

But after the government was overthrown by the military in 2018, returning to Sudan did not seem wise. Like many of his friends, Muhanad took to social media and shared photos of protests and strong criticism of the military leaders, who ignored calls for civilian rule.

The subsequent arrest of his friends in Sudan and threats against Muhanad led him to look for a new home. With a brother living in Edmonton, he chose Canada. And when it came to navigating the legal details of his refugee claim, he connected with Legal Aid Alberta.

Legal Aid Alberta immigration law specialist Ruth Williams helped Muhanad apply for refugee status—which has been granted.

In search of safety

In another recent case, Williams helped a woman from Uganda applying for refugee status, whose claim was among the first to be heard in a virtual court room, after the pandemic struck.

“My life was in danger and I had to find a safe place,” says the client, whose family remains in Uganda.

After arriving in Edmonton, she sought legal assistance to get through the refugee claims process.

“Without help from LAA, I don’t think my hearing would have gone through yet. I felt protected and had peace of mind while they were helping me,” she said.

Williams says there are intrinsic rewards to practicing immigration law and helping people wanting to build new lives in Canada.

“From a selfish point of view, it makes you feel great to be helping people in such dramatic ways—you’re saving lives and saving families, and giving people hope,” she said.

“People don’t think of immigration law as being glamourous—but this country was built on immigration.”

Williams recalls, early in her career, attending the retirement party of an immigration lawyer who encouraged young lawyers to commit themselves to the specialty.

“She said people don’t think of immigration law as being glamourous—but this country was built on immigration—everyone has immigrated here and you’re contributing to the development and evolution of the country, so stick with it.”

Williams’ father grew up in Antigua and, as a child, dreamed of emigrating to Canada. A hurricane had struck the small island nation and Canada sent food and aid.

“He remembers seeing a box with the Canadian flag on it and thinking ‘I want to move to a country that would send food across the world for me.’

“Every person who comes here changes the dynamic and fabric of this country, and it reverberates outward because you’re contributing to how the world sees us.”

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