Mohammed Alajarmeh was just 21 when he left his home in Jordan in search of a better life.
“I have my own story, my own problems,” he told Global News from his home in Vancouver, BC. “We want to live a life, a normal, good life. Work (in the) morning, do your job, come home, that’s what we need.”
His journey to Canada, however, has not been easy. Soon after arriving in the United States, Alajarmeh was put in touch with someone he thought was an immigration lawyer.
“He told me, ‘You can get your citizenship in Canada and get a better life and job and in two months, you get your PR (permanent resident status),” he said. “He was calling me every day (saying) Canada is better. Come here! It’s easy.”
Convinced by a cousin who had used the man’s services, Alajarmeh agreed to pay the smuggler $4,000 and fly to a house just outside the British Columbia border in Washington state. Early one morning, he said, he walked over the border to where a car was waiting to pick him up.
“At 6 a.m., he picked me up and drove me to the airport,” Alajarmeh recalled. “I paid him the money and he brought me to a house in Calgary.”
The smuggler’s promise of permanent resident status or a work visa never materialized. Alajarmeh became indebted to the smuggler. He says he was exploited into working for him as a driver, eventually learning he had been unknowingly helping to smuggle other migrants into the country.
“To them, you are money, that’s it, ” Alajarmah said. “He rented an apartment for me and said I owed him rent. When I told him I couldn’t get a job he said, ‘Why don’t you drive for me? I’ll pay you three hundred dollars, four hundred dollars to drive from Calgary to Vancouver and Vancouver to Calgary.’”
Alajarmah says he eventually told an investigator with Canada’s Border Services Agency everything he knew about the smuggling operation. Thaer Abuelhaija, who advertises himself as an immigration consultant in Calgary was charged with 48 criminal offenses under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Alajarmah says when he heard of the tragedy in Manitoba last week, when the bodies of four people were found in an icy field near the Manitoba/U.S. border he felt a sense of loss. According to U.S. officials, the four were part of a larger group of Indian nationals who were attempting to cross into the U.S. illegally. Forty-seven-year-old Steve Shand has been charged with human smuggling.
“I told a friend, I knew this was going to happen,” Alajarmah said. “I know how (the smugglers) talk. They say, ‘Come, it’s good. You’ll get your life, you’ll get your paper, we want to help you, we’re your brothers.’ People just want a better life.”