World Refugee Day 2016: 4 MPs Reflect On What It Meant To Be Embraced By Canada

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They came to Canada with precious little and now exemplify what's possible in this place.

On Monday — World Refugee Day — the Liberal party released a short video online showcasing four MPs who understand better than most what it's like to start over in a strange place.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef found safe haven after escaping Afghanistan, while Toronto MPs Garyanada Sangaree, Arif Virani, and Ahmed Hussen came to Canada from Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Somalia, respectively.

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Ahmed Hussen and Maryam Monsef.

In the clip, Monsef notes that Peterborough, Ont. "seemed like heaven" when she arrived in 1996. Both Sangaree and Hussen remember the cold and the snow that marked their arrival.

All suggest that what makes Canada special is the way it embraces diversity.

"Everything was orderly, everyone got along," says Hussen, who arrived in 1993. "There were people of many faiths and ethnicities and yet there was harmony and cohesion."

"You can come from any part of the world, you can love anyone, you could be whatever you are… and still be the same," Sangaree says.

Virani says it's all part of what makes Canada "par excellence."

"A country that allows you to be whatever you want to be."

Watch the full video below:


Monsef touched on many of the same themes in an interview with The Huffington Post last November, shortly after she was named to cabinet.

Monsef said the warm embrace of neighbours in her Ontario city made her family feel like they weren't alone when she arrived at the age of 11, homesick and unable to understand English.

Those who helped her widowed mother get by also showed Monsef and her sisters "that we had a community … that it was going to be OK, [and] that we belonged there."

"Twenty years later ... that kindness stays with me, and I hope that as a member of Parliament, I can repay some of that through my service," she said.

'Somber milestone'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement Monday, calling World Refugee Day a "somber milestone" because of the estimated 60 million people — more than half of them children — who are refugees, internally-displaced persons, or asylum-seekers.

New figures from the United Nations' refugee agency put that number at more than 65 million.

"In a time of economic uncertainty and tightening security, it is easy for countries to shy away from the plight of those seeking shelter from conflict and persecution," Trudeau said in the release. "We must do better than that, and lead with open minds and warm hearts, not closed borders and cold indifference."

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives winter clothes to Syrian refugees, 16 month-old Madeleine Jamkossian and her father Kevork on December 11, 2015 in Toronto. (Photo: Nathan Denette/CP)

Canada was built by those who fled war and oppression, he said, and remains a nation of immigrants.

Trudeau lauded the fact that 25,000 Syrian refugees have been welcomed in Canada since December, with another 15,000 privately-sponsored refugees still to come.

But Trudeau also used the occasion to note "regrettable moments" when Canada has turned away those in need, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the Komagata Maru incident, for which he formally apologized in the House of Commons last month.

"Today, tomorrow, and all the days to come, let us show the world that Canada truly is the compassionate, generous country that we know it to be," he said.

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With a file from The Canadian Press

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