Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Gloria Nkechi Onyekweli, centre, stands with a group of Canadian Olympians at Narita International Airport on July 30, 2021, including swimmers Kierra Smith, Tessa Cieplucha and Bailey Andison.

John R. Harris

As Gloria Nkechi Onyekweli prepared to check the luggage she packed for Canada on Friday, she looked across to a cluster of athletes in maple leaf T-shirts. They were Olympians – rowers, swimmers and boxers – preparing to board their flight home from Narita International Airport.

In a few hours, she knew, Canada would be her home, too.

For nearly 15 years, Ms. Onyekweli lived in poverty, repeated imprisonment and legal vulnerability in Japan, which repeatedly rejected her claims for asylum. She landed in Tokyo in 2006 after fleeing Nigeria in fear that government forces were hunting her because she was part of a group seeking self-determination for the Igbo people in Biafra.

Story continues below advertisement

But Canada had accepted her.

At the airport, Ms. Onyekweli strode over to the people who will soon be her fellow countrymen and women. Someone gave her an Olympics pin. She was with John R. Harris, a Canadian who has helped Ms. Onyekweli raise money and navigate the complexities of a refugee application. He could not resist an Olympics metaphor.

“This lady is going with you on the plane to start her new life in Canada,” he told the athletes. “This is her golden moment.”

‘They want us out of Japan:’ Nigerian refugee leaving for Canada amid Olympics

So it is for Canada, he said after Ms. Onyekweli’s flight had departed. Once she completes quarantine, she will begin building a new life in Kimberley, B.C.

Seeing Ms. Onyekweli with the athletes brought Mr. Harris a swell of feeling.

As a country, Canada “has got a lot to reconcile at the moment,” he said.

But it was Canadians who brought Ms. Onyekweli into a Tokyo Anglican church, where she found a community in a city that had treated her with hostility. It was Canadians who donated tens of thousands of dollars to her cause. It was Canadians in a small town in British Columbia who offered to sponsor a stranger as a refugee. It was Canadians who approved her application and provided her with resettlement papers.

Story continues below advertisement

“Canadians from start to finish came together to make this happen. And that makes me feel really good about our country,” Mr. Harris said.

“Our treatment of refugees is one of the best things about us.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies