A risky decision to cross the Peace Arch border in South Surrey in 2017 could have led to deportation for Ashki Shkur and her family.
Refugees from Iraq, Shkur says they found it difficult to stay in the U.S. during the Trump presidency and decided to risk entering Canada illegally.
After crossing, the family of four, was quickly taken into custody and faced the very real threat of being removed from the country. But following pleas from educators, employers and the community, the family was granted permanent residency on compassionate grounds in 2019.
Now 18, Shkur is fulfilling all of her dreams, one by one.
A graduate of Britannia Secondary in East Vancouver, she will be attending UBC with a full-ride, $80,000 scholarship through the Centennial Scholars Entrance Award, which she chose from among several scholarships she was offered.
Her plan is to get a degree in sciences, then go to medical school to accomplish her life-long desire of becoming a surgeon.
Reaching this point after escaping Iraq, is “the ultimate dream” for Shkur, whose own parents had to stop attending school in Grade 6.
“My dad had to start working and my mom had to stop going to school because of gender-based persecution,” she explained.
The thought of their daughter not being able to continue her education was a fate her parents would do anything to fight.
Watching the news in Kurdistan, the family heard Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declare: “Canada’s arms are open to refugees and Canada is an accepting place.”
Their sights were now set on settling in Canada, but they had to travel to the U.S. for their first stop.
The family arrived in the U.S. in February 2016 and tried to enter Ontario the same day.
“I remember this exact phrase, it was the only phrase I knew in English, it was my job to memorize it and ask the police officer, ‘Can we seek asylum?”
The response, however, was not what they’d hoped for. Because of the safe third country rule, the Shkur family was told that they would not be given refugee protection in Canada because they were entering by land and would have to wait in the U.S. a whole year before they could enter the country legally.
“Everything was great until President Donald Trump came and he threatened seven countries, including Iraq. At that time, we didn’t have anything, we didn’t have a green card. All we had was work permits and study permits … we could have been deported and we really couldn’t risk that,” Shkur said.
The family had a couple days shy of a whole year left, but, scared for their safety, they decided to cross the Peace Arch border illegally.
With the threat of deportation hanging over them, the famiy began the process of applying for permanent residency on compassionate grounds.
Shkur and her younger sister enrolled in school and their parents began working right away in Canada to prove to the government that they would be an asset to the country.