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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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