Miguel came to Canada as a refugee from Colombia through the United States. His concern for his family left in Colombia, helped him create an organization to help recent immigrants settle into their new Canadian life.
My name is Miguel Fernando Guerra. I was born in Colombia. My country of origin is Colombia as well. I was born in Barranquilla on February 22nd, 1974. I’d completed my professional studies at the national university in Bogota as a mechanical engineer, and then I traveled to the States to complement that. In 1999, I returned and I moved to a rural area, where I started working with my family’s business. But due to the influence of a left-wing insurgent army, I was forced to flee the country, and left my family behind. At that time, I went to the States, and then I met who was going to be my wife in 2002. Went to Buffalo, and then we stayed in Viva La Casa – a non-profit organization backed by the United Nations – and they opened their arms, they let me stay there for a while, while I entered Canada seeking refugee status.
I’d waited for twenty-eight days before we came here. We crossed the border with a couple of people from Sri Lanka, and stayed in immigration in Fort Erie for a while until we were processed. Then, the next day, somebody came to pick us up and we went to city of Welland, Ontario – the Welland heritage council - and we stayed in that place for maybe a month. And then we moved to an apartment, and the minute we got there, we experienced a difference from before when we were in the States. We couldn’t believe our eyes. The people, the smiles, and the way they treated us. And the staff that worked there was very comfortable.
But our main concern – the family we left behind. We were really worried about them. We had no communication or information with them. Thanks to God – because we are very profound Christian people – and we found Century United Church – a local church. And we immediately started to establish a settlement. And we started an assistance program for refugees. I had decided in my mind I had the chance to do for others the same things they had done for us. Even complete strangers, Canadians, the way they delivered goods and furniture to us. We started from zero, and they gave us a lot of help. So I helped to create this community, and get involved and I realized I could do something. Help other refugees who are coming, not only to Colombians, but from other nationalities as well. And even today, the church has been very supportive of the help I’ve done. I became a translator and interpreter during the process, and helping other refugees, and especially people coming from Colombia. Getting very involved with the community, trying to get to know what the differences are between this country and mine. Then I moved to Pickering at the end of 2002, where I continued my dream, helping a social and immigration lawyer, and doing interpretation and translation by myself.
Adjusting was very difficult, coming to the big city. Especially coming to Toronto because we also have big cities, by the way, but it is so multicultural. And the country as well. It helped us a lot, in a way, because we get to understand other cultures and other ways that people think. And it was very important for me to continue my work getting to know other Colombians and other refugee people as well. Canada means to me- since I just recently got my decision from the immigration and refugee board that I know can be able to – I’m a protected person, and at the end I can be a citizen. Canada is a second home to me now. My second place to be.