Having spent the first part of my life living in Somalia, Canada was a beacon of light. I came to Canada in 1993 as a refugee, and was welcomed with open arms. Coming to Canada was not just an opportunity to feel safe -- it quickly became home. Sadly, our nation has lost its way. What motivates me to run in this election is a reflection of my journey from being a refugee living in social housing, to becoming a lawyer, and advocating on behalf of all Canadians. The Canada I knew in the 1990s was one that welcomed refugees and new immigrants openly, striving to ensure equal opportunities for all.
A year ago we had written to Minister Chris Alexander to apologize for treating a refugee patient. We spoke about how cuts to refugee health care had made seeing a doctor virtually impossible for many new refugees. Were you, Mr. Prime Minister, desperately trying to get the Minister to review the file as well?
This Saturday, June 20, is the UN World Refugee Day. It's a day set aside every year to recognize the plight of refugees and acknowledge the efforts of those who assist them, often in the face of life-threatening obstacles. We need to recognize realities but not despair. We need to focus the global mind on our collective responsibility. We need to roll up our sleeves and help those who are so deserving of our assistance while urging others to double and triple their efforts to end the underlying conditions that have created this unacceptable human catastrophe.
My children and I immigrated to Canada in 2010 as refugees. When we arrived, I was so happy that my kids were in a safe country. In Zimbabwe I remember not being able to cry or find comfort in anyone, because everyone was experiencing their own share of pain and shock. So in April of 2010, after being released from the most recent lock-up, I took my kids at midnight and headed for the border knowing that if I was caught I would be burned alive and killed. Even though I was living with the uncertainty of how my immigration hearing would pan out, watching my kids embrace Canadian culture strengthened me when I was at my weakest point.
Some of this language merely has the effect of stereotyping all claimants. But some phrases -- "supporting organized crime," "refusing to leave" -- once explained, expose a more closed system. This is not a call for reporters to censor government ministers. It is a call to deliver factual instead of politicized news. Reporters can do this by marking rhetoric, for instance, by always quoting political terms like "bogus refugees," and even more useful, by demanding clarity (Minister, what's the difference between an inland claimant and a "self-selected refugee"?).
The new citizenship and immigration minister, Chris Alexander, delivered a speech last week, the day before International Women's Day. The surprising part was just short of the end, when Alexander paused, stared down at the podium. He was crying. But Alexander and his government created a fast refugee system, not a fair one.
Adel was in Homs during the heavy shelling which obliterated the Syrian city's Baba Amr district. He had been studying English at the university and had stayed on to do his military service. Running out of options and funds, he then made his way to the border and crossed into Iraq, becoming a refugee. For the past eight months, Adel has been working tirelessly as an interpreter.
Here in the "Canadian Mosaic," issues of race are largely stricken from the language of the everyday. We prefer not to speak openly about racism, for deconstructing it might chip away at that illusory façade of Canada as a nation of perpetual tolerance and chronic multiculturalism -- a delusion we all hold dear to our glowing hearts. Unfortunately for all those "liberal-minded" Canadians out there who view our country to be so forward thinking and accommodating that racism is a non-issue, institutionalized multiculturalism is not the same thing as social racial equality.
Uprooted from their lives, sometimes in a violent manner, many refugees find themselves in alien lands with little or no knowledge of the local language or culture and (generally) without friends or family to help a lending hand. Most western governments refer to refugees as "clients" or "customers" when processing their applications. There's little or no recognition of the person behind the paperwork. That's where Canada's Romero House comes in.
Recently, there has been much discussion about establishing a "safe haven" within Syria's borders to protect the growing number of refugees fleeing the country's civil war, which unfortunately have received little backing. Can we hold that bordering states have a duty to accept more fleeing Syrians? This is a tough call, as the international community is not helping the situation in any certain terms.