The Icy Moments of a Refugee Gliding Into Online Canadian Romances

“Meet my mom, you texted her too,” a potential date bemused me on Google Hangouts. 


“Do you wanna marry me just for asylum papers?” a wannabe fiancé asked before blocking me on the wildly popular dating app POF (Plenty of Fish).  

From there on, on every potential date, I ended up waffling (without being asked), “Wait, before this blooms, thing is, err, I’m an asylum seeker and black, does that bother you?” Such words were usually “joy kills.” They freeze the conversation. 


Yes that’s the routine experience of some refugees and newcomers, (my unscientific gut feeling) freshly arrived in Canada, attempting to plant a foot into the “dating scene” while surviving food banks at the same time. 


After five failed online date flicks – chewing on the experience – as a black refugee partaking online romances; whenever race and immigration status is mentioned, a wet blanket usually comes over my face.


Below are my loosely gathered guidelines:



  1. Be honest upfront, sort of…


Corny to say it, but on the outset of every potential romance, you may well…tell your date – “I´m a refugee; I’m in an asylum shelter; thought you must know first.” 

In Canada, truthfulness is a cherished value. (I am told I must know). 

A caveat: when you are open like this, prepare for a torrent of reactions. 

In my four dating tries on POF, it usually led to this: “Yah sure you don’t wanna date me to get papers? It´s very expensive to marry a foreigner in Canada; I need to earn $50,000 sorry can’t afford to love you.” 

Admittedly, you´ll also receive cute replies like, “Asylum seeker? Damn, wonderful, You´re a human being!” 


  1. Prepare for a circus, 

While “fishing” on POF as the website calls our searches for love, this one, they did me. 

They purposefully set up their online profile to look like their mother ́s and pretended to be two different people. I chatted them up, the exchanges were delightful. Unknowingly, I chatted up their mum! Thinking this was the same person. 

Goodwill was exchanged for a week – until we agreed to our first Google Hangouts video dinner call. I changed my iPhone ringtone to the sound of a smooth winter cough; brightened up my cheeks with Instagram lotion; cross – checked the home Wi-Fi signal. You know…

They dialed first and spoke, “Meet my mum, Volvo is her name. She is the one driving today. By the way, you texted her too.”

My brain died.


  1. When you love, love a language…

One of the very noble, I might say, goals of Canada government to promote social harmony is its drive to make sure that new immigrants (like yours truly) learn English or French or both. At least.

The same goes with dating – put your tongue where your heart is. 

The great Nelson Mandela hinted if you love someone, make an effort to understand their language. I am from an English speaking country, and this is my first squirmy attempt at French. I now live in Quebec, a proudly, overwhelmingly French province in Canada. In dating online, I found out that my own responses were 50% richer when I included “je m´appelle” to my taglines and made an effort to learn basic French, however basic. 


Bio: Ray Mwareya is a refugee and freelance culture writer in Ottawa, Canada. They are fiercely protective of LGBTQA rights. Hate has no place in my columns. Their twitter is: @rmwareya 

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