Sky is the limit for refugee who fled Somalia

Arriving in Canada as refugee was overwhelming for Osman, but now he has found his feet and is determined to help others.

Osman Ali fled Somalia in 1978, arriving as a refugee in Toronto.
© UNHCR/Annie Sakkab

When he first arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1978, Osman Ali felt confused, overwhelmed and lost. But the affable young man, who had played competitive basketball back in Somalia and was used to a challenge, looked forward.

“Nothing can hold you back," says Osman. "If you work hard, get education, you will advance."

He attended university in Toronto to study electrical engineering and found a job shortly after graduation.

But that was not enough for Osman. Years later, when civil war engulfed Somalia and refugees fled to Canada, he started a community organization to welcome and assist new arrivals. It is still running today, helping young people by offering scholarships and entrepreneurial training. “We feel if we produce successful youth, we pay back the debt that we owe to Canada, which welcomed us," he says.

Then and Now is a series of stories profiling refugees who have come to Canada over the years, in search of safety, stability and a chance at a better life. Starting from 1956, when Canada accepted its first major intake of refugees, the project uses archived images and family photos to tell the stories of refugees from Hungary, Viet Nam, Uganda, Somalia, Colombia, Cambodia, Burundi and El Salvador.