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Citizen Heroes Are Making Canada And Australia Better Places For Refugees

Managing migration crises is an issue we need to figure out globally and collectively.

11/07/2017 16:21 EST | Updated 11/07/2017 16:23 EST

Last week, the uber-controversial Manus Island detention centre, known for being violation of human rights, closed down. It's been likened to a concentration camp by indignant Australians. But the detainees surprised everyone, creating a firestorm by refusing to leave. They claimed the new solution being offered them was going to be, incomprehensibly, even worse. They cited safety concerns, validated by the UN, and a humanitarian crisis ensued — and continues.

Often, an opportunity can be discovered in crisis. And some Australians began to speak up for the detainees, decrying the government's decision to move forward the cutting of vital food, electricity and water as the men attempted to find a water source by digging holes, fruitlessly.

Enter Russell Crowe. Like a knight in shining armour, setting the Twittersphere alight, not only decrying Manus Island as "the shame" it is for Australia, but personally offering to house six refugees and suggesting other Australian's would be willing to help. God Bless your cotton socks, as we say in Newfoundland, a place I know you know well.

Outside of celebrity outrage about horrible conditions, Manus Island and refugee detention doesn't add up in other ways. There are 606 men at Manus Island. The budget Australia must spend to house them in those deplorable conditions for 12 months is AU$150 to $250 million. Meanwhile, the five-year budget for Canada to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees is CA$245 million. Beyond shameful, fiscally detention seems illogical and irresponsible. Australia, like Canada, has welcomed Syrian refugees and must be aware of the dollars and sense of it all. Granted, it's a complex problem, granting asylum and deciding who gets the privilege of having a regular human existence and who belongs in a prison.

There are many wonderful people in this kind of No Man's Land — sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and friends. I know one of them. Over the last few years, I've become good friends with Ali, a young man who has been detained in Indonesia for almost three years who has no idea exactly if or when he will ever be free. He's committed no crime, but is "guilty" of fleeing his country to avoid certain death.

Ali Jafari

None of Ali's family know his whereabouts, his living conditions are deplorable, and he's recently lost a friend who was not treated for an ailment. But with places like Manus in existence, it's hard to get him any air time.

Managing migration crises is an issue we need to figure out globally and collectively. Creating prisons for fear of terrorism is not a sustainable, logical, effective or humane solution in the new world that is emerging.

Meanwhile in Canada, our country has done some great work with regard to welcoming newcomers. Recently, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, touted Canada is a global leader making Justin Trudeau a hero for championing refugees.

I've had the good fortune of working with some local Canadians who personally stepped up to create solutions for newcomers. Over the last 18 months, I've been filming the work of the internationally recognized Newcomer Kitchen. Their work has been inspired, but not without it's major challenges.

The endless variables of trying to change refugees' lives in a way that's never been explored before is littered with obstacles: bureaucracy, language and culture barriers, funding and many more... but the resilience and friendship of the Syrian women cooks drives everyone involved to keep working together to create this new world.

Shway Shway: The Newcomer Kitchen Story
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, lauded as a global champion today for refugees by UNHCR, poses with Canadian Syrian Newcomers outside The Depanneur in Toronto. Newcomer Kitchen is a popular pop-up featuring Syrian home-made dishes prepared by Syrian Newcomer women. This image courtesy of the feature documentary Shway Shway: The Newcomer Kitchen.

Other organizations have been noted for blazing trails for refugee processing and integration. Lifeline Syria, founded in 2015, was named Canadian Club's 2016 Canadian of the Year for their work in assisting with private sponsorship and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada. Many Canadians have dreamed up wonderful, innovative ways to welcome new Canadians, including a massive, 600-person sing-along led by the popular Choir!Choir!Choir! who were able to bring and settle a Syrian family into Toronto.

I'm hoping that the current humanitarian crisis at Manus Island will reveal and unite more heroes to create a brave and beautiful new world.

Beyond Russell Crowe, Australia has their own citizen heroes — amazing people and initiatives in Australia that are working to raise awareness and help refugees who have no protectors. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is "a place and a movement" owned and run by volunteers since 2001 that aim to create lasting social and policy change for people seeking asylum in Australia. Babes Against Detention are a "bunch of babes against Australia's treatment of asylum seekers" who sell stylish B.A.D pins that benefit ASRC. Filmmaker and activist Charby Ibrahim is a filmmaker and activist who made a short film "The Jolly Swagman" that details the horrifying experiences of Ravi, a Sri Lankan Refugee, Australia's offshore Nauru Immigration Detention Centre.

Crisis breeds opportunity. The heroic men at Manus Island may have been buried, but their voices are seeds that could sprout an opportunity for Australians to find new solutions. I'm hoping that the current humanitarian crisis at Manus Island will reveal and unite more heroes to create a brave and beautiful new world.

Kelli Kieley is currently completing Shway Shway: The Newcomer Kitchen Story, a feature film about Newcomer Kitchen and five per cent of revenues from the film will go to Newcomer KItchen.

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