Nigerian asylum seeker finding solace through Scrabble
As he waits to learn if he will be allowed to stay in Canada, a Nigerian asylum seeker has found solace at a Scrabble club in Quebec.
“I was feeling depression in me,” Olakunle Azeez Omopariola told CTV News from a community centre in Côte-Saint-Luc, a Montreal suburb. “This is like a happy environment.”
Every Wednesday night, Omopariola heads to the centre in the city’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park to play the classic board game he has loved since he was a teenager. Rather than being motivated by winning, Omopariola comes for a much-needed escape from the uncertainty he feels about his future and the fear of being forced to return to his country.
“This is the kind of environment I need to keep going,” the father of two said.
Omopariola left Nigeria for the U.S. in 2016 after he says he was abducted and beaten. He claims he had no choice but to flee.
“Even if I go to the police station with bruises, it still doesn't amount to anything,” he said. “That's how bad it is in my country.”
Omopariola and his young family eventually overstayed their tourist visas in the U.S. After the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the family decided that they needed to leave.
In April, like thousands of others before them, they undertook a desperate journey, entering Quebec from upstate New York on Roxham Road, risking everything at the irregular border crossing for a chance to live in Canada.
“At that point I felt all I have to do is just to fight for my life,” Omopariola said. “We just want safety. (It’s) not like we we’re looking for economic gain or something, no -- we just wanted safety.”
Omopariola, his wife and their two young daughters only came with a few pieces of luggage. They are now trying to build a new life from a one-bedroom apartment.
“Luckily somebody gave us a mattress so we had something to sleep on the next day,” Omopariola said of their arrival.
His wife, Moriam Omopariola, has since landed a full-time job at a plastics company. Omopariola now works for a courier business and also delivers take-out.
Omopariola says they won’t know if they will be able to stay permanently in Canada until next year at the earliest
“We’re still nervous because it’s still like a 50/50 chance,” he said.
For now, at least, he is able to celebrate small victories.
“I played bingo,” he said of a recent game, referring to play in which all seven tiles are used. “I scored like almost 100 points!”
With a report from CTV’s Vanessa Lee in Montreal