Clemantine Wamariya went years without taking a shower. Living with the filth and stench was still preferable to risking rape in a refugee camp bathroom. It would be six more years before she again had a home not constructed out of blue and white United Nations tarps, and several more years before she became a Yale University grad and activist for displaced peoples. Wamariya's incredible success story is a testament to what refugees can achieve when every day is not just a fight for survival.
I was sitting on a bench inside the military court that day, accompanied by a military intelligence agent, waiting for my military judge to arrive in the courtroom. It was a spring day, in April 2011, just few months after the revolution started. It was the fifth time I was detained in Egypt because of my activism. It isn't that I can understand the situations of people facing injustice from afar, I can feel their pain, because it's my pain as well.
On April 25 of this year, the Ethiopian government made news by arresting six bloggers and three freelance journalists. It is now over 100 days, and counting, since the six Zone 9 bloggers and the three freelance journalists were thrown into Ethiopian prison cells. The nine writers are facing terrorism-related charges, standing accused of inciting violence through social media.
The enormous influx of Syrian refugees has been difficult for the Lebanese people. Some estimates put the Syrian refugee presence in Lebanon at 50 per cent of the small country's total population. Hala Naufal, an Expert Demographer and professor of Population Studies at the Lebanese University, estimates the Syrian refugee count in Lebanon to now be around two million.
The actors who built South Sudan knew what they were creating: a country barely emerged from decades of devastating conflict, led by a generation with no access to education or any kind of functioning infrastructure; a completely impoverished petro-state, entirely dependent on oil resources but with no capacity to develop them on its own; and a nation deeply split by ethnic divisions.
Headlines and news stories keep us updated on the sometimes harsh truths around the world. While we are disturbed by the increasingly horrific situation in Iraq and the ensuing displacement of millions of Syrian refugees, another serious humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in South Sudan in near silence.
As we mark World Refugee Day, the latest figures indicate that more than 50-million human beings alive today have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Whether they're refugees, asylum-seekers, or people displaced within their own countries, these individuals had no choice but to leave the places they once held so dear.
The refugee health cuts must be reversed, but we must also look at the underlying disease of which these cuts are a symptom. The refugee health cuts are but one more policy decision in an increasingly regressive immigration system, and refugees are just one more group being denied health care because of their immigration status.
Consider what is happening in Syria even as we read these words. Aid agencies have become so desperate for help that they repeatedly call upon the affluent West to step up and assist the 9.3 million people living at risk, and the 3.5 million Syrians living under siege. Surely these people matter to us, right?
There was a time when Canada realized that while military security was an important investment, it was the long-term planning involved in relief and development that would ultimately bring greater measures of peace to our world. Somewhere along the way we lost that. We also lost a seat on the UN Security Council, the world's respect through our lack of action on climate change, and our altruism the moment we decided to invest development resources only in those nations that enhanced our own local economy and brought political benefit to the government.
Over the next few weeks decisions will be made about the Pusumas, a Roma family that has lived inside Toronto churches for about two years. Pronouncements will be heard that will conclude where they live and in fact, how the rest of their lives unfold. The Pusumas are hoping they will receive a fair hearing and that our government will act compassionately and justly with the knowledge that a very dangerous landscape faces them should they be forced to return to Europe.
Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is attempting to justify the recent changes to the refugee determination system and refugee health care with divisive language and misrepresentation of the facts. This is not a reasonable way to develop public policy that affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
The Government of Canada has just given new meaning to the word "chutzpah". Adel Benhmuda tried to claim refugee status in Canada; he failed. When he said he'd be tortured if deported back to Libya this country didn't believe him. After all this country put them through, it should be Canada reimbursing the Benhmudas.
The Sri Lanka case shows that the declared safety of a foreign country depends on Canadian politics instead of evidence like returned Sri Lankans experiencing torture and possibly worse. Politicians are not an authority on persecution. When they act like one, friends are called safe. Then domestic demands shift and suddenly they balk, tugging along lives with whims.
Thousands are outraged at the PQ's Charter of Values. But while the wearing of religious symbols is defended, poor and working class immigrants themselves are being excluded from the entire country. Many are shut out entirely, and an immense number relegated to second class status as temporary migrants.
We can now admit the truth: the Syrian refugees are on their own. So let's stop pretending. The two million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, and some four million remain internally displaced. The numbers are simply staggering -- the largest since the Rwandan crisis of the early 1990s. We shouldn't be surprised. Our belief in politics is at an all-time low, as is voter turnout in many countries. We seem frozen in time when it comes to troubling developments such as climate change or the rapid widening gap between the rich and the poor. Democracy seems incapable at the moment of meeting its most serious challenges.
People worldwide can be forgiven for their sense of bewilderment at the constant back and forth between military and diplomatic solutions to the crisis in Syria. We've now been at this long enough for commentators to reverse their positions depending on the most recent developments. But there is one group -- a huge one -- for whom none of this really matters: refugees.
We have learned from Bebe that the spirit of female refugees all over the world is unwavering. Every day more than 7.3 million women live and work, regardless of setbacks, to provide for their families. Women, who like all people, want nothing more than to have a better life for themselves and for those they love.