Somalian refugee starts new life in Nova Scotia


Mohamed Hussein

After escaping civil war in Somalia with his family and then growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp that he could not leave, Mohamed Hussein is thankful for the chance to start a new life in Nova Scotia.  

He arrived in March 2021, among an early group of refugees from Africa who were offered work as continuing care assistants (CCAs) under the federal Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot program. He is one of 13 workers who moved to New Glasgow, N.S., to work at a local long-term care facility under the plan.

“I was so happy to change my life and to help also,” Hussein said.

A recent Nova Scotia delegation to Kenya resulted in job offers to 65 other people currently living in refugee camps or in the capital of Nairobi, after fleeing violence and civil war in nearby countries.

The 34-year-old remembers thinking it was a joke when a settlement officer from the United Nations refugee agency explained Canadian employers were looking for people with medical backgrounds.

“It took almost 10 minutes to convince me,” he recalls.

Hussein credits the education provided by the UN at the Dadaab refugee camp for setting him on the right path when he was awarded a scholarship to a medical training college outside the camp in Kenya.

That was the only way he could leave the facility he had been living at since he was three or four years old.

“I cannot get out of that camp literally because there are restrictions and refugees are not allowed to move out of those camps unless you are going for studies or medical emergencies,” he said.

He completed a four-year program in clinical medicine and surgery, including a one-year internship in a teaching hospital, which he described as similar work to that of a physician’s assistant.

With this experience, Hussein was identified as one of the skilled workers who could qualify for the program to move to Canada.

Hussein is already working toward becoming a licensed practical nurse and is currently taking a two-year, online program through Nova Scotia Community College. Once he’s finished, he hopes to continue studying and working in Nova Scotia, with the aim of becoming a registered nurse and eventually a nurse practitioner.

Nova Scotia Health officials say although some workers might leave their initial jobs in continuing care, they are likely to move into more skilled positions in Nova Scotia’s health-care system, which is suffering from staff shortages at all levels, from various roles in nursing to family doctors and medical specialists.

“It has been really exciting,” said Becky Cowen, who is manager of workforce and immigration for the group.

“They only started arriving in 2021, so that is a long time to wait for talent when you are having chronic shortages. But it was definitely worth the wait, so it has been really valuable,” Cowen said, adding other sectors that need workers could also benefit from the program.

The support Hussein he’s received from people in the community makes him feel confident about the move the 65 refugees will soon be making.