Monday, 30 June 2014

World Refugee Day and The Ugandan Asian Archive

Hello blog world!

My apologies for the delay in posting on these two amazing events that happened on June 20th in Ottawa. The first was World Refugee Day that was celebrated at Ottawa City Hall with a wonderful mix of speeches, presentations, poetry, and live performances.

Mr. De Angelis delivering the opening
remarks at the flag raising ceremony
Some of the distinguished guests included Furio De Angelis (the head of UNHCR in Canada), Senator Mubina Jaffer (a Ugandan Asian refugee), Senator Thanh Hai Ngo (a Vietnamese Refugee), Jim Watson (Mayor of Ottawa), and Chris Alexander (Citizenship and Immigration Minister). To be entirely honest the commemoration embodied both the hope and despair of refugee life in the 21st century. As Mr. De Angelis remarked in his opening address, the world currently has more refugees than it has ever had since the Second World War. That means there are more than 51.2 million refugees worldwide. As the world has become increasingly violent this has coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of refugees. Of pertinent concern is the fact that at least 6.3 million of these people have been living in refugee camps for more than a decade

This includes roughly 120,000 Burmese refugees from the Karen minority that have been living in refugee camps on the border of Thailand and Burma for more than 20 years. It is this overwhelming crisis that prompted Minister Alexander to announce that the Canadian government has pledged to donate an additional 50.7 million dollars to UNHCR in addition to their current pledges to help refugees in Syria and South Sudan. To be fair, a monetary contribution is certainly significant and a commendable move by the Canadian government but in my opinion accepting only 1,300 Syrian refugees over the past year (of which ONLY 200 were government sponsored) is NOT enough. I'm planning on expanding on the whole issue over Syrian refugees in an upcoming post so stay tuned for that one :) I could not agree more with UNHCR's motto: "We believe one family torn apart by war is too many."

Senator Jaffer delivering her speech
Senator Jaffer delivering her speech
As for the talks by both refugee senators they were absolutely amazing. Senator Jaffer was moved to tears not only when describing the persecution felt by her family and her husband but also with regards to the hospitality she received in Canada. I was completely drawn to the way she told her story as captivating and very raw. One of the things she said that stuck with me that day was, "It is my hope that all refugees receive the cadillac treatment that we received when we came to Canada". That message hit home because I could feel the genuine gratitude in Senator Jaffer's voice. It was a very candid and emotional speech and I am thankful that she was willing to tell it to everyone attending the event. It was wonderful to see Senator Jaffer again and to hear her speak of her hardship and ultimately her success in Canada.
Senator Jaffer and Mr. De Angelis
 having a moment :)

Senator Ngo spoke more of his experiences in Canada including some funny anecdotes. Another excellent life story was told by a Rwandese refugee Lilian Asiimwe. She spoke of the difficulties surrounding never being able to go home and the struggle of letting go of the past. Similar to Senator Jaffer, she also asserted the importance of taking the opportunity to embrace the opportunities available to those who are in Canada and to ask for help. Beyond these talks, there were poems by high school students who were the regional winners of a poetry contest on refugees that were presented in both French and English. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to the actual poems but I did find something even better! Here is a link to poems written by refugees between grades 4 and 12 living in the GTA. There were also a few musical performances that were fantastic.

 John Chrysostom Alintuma Nsambu
High Commissioner
 of the
Republic of Uganda in Canada.
Nizar Fakirani, who spoke on
behalf of the Fakirani family
Just in case this wasn't enough of an event filled day, they also officially launched the opening of the Ugandan Asian refugee archive at Carleton University. It was a stellar event and I was able to meet tons of refugees as well as a few others that were part of the immigration team in Kampala that worked on the resettlement. On top of that I was able to meet Tasneem Jamal who just released her first novel "Where the Air is Sweet" a novel that explores the life of her grandfather (but through a fictional character) in Uganda and Canada. It was wonderful to meet so many members of the Fakirani family as well as other Ugandan Asian refugees currently living in Ottawa. The archive itself has a massive collection of news paper articles and other resources that explore the resettlement initiative. The website is available here for those of you who are interested in checking out some of the original newspaper excerpts from Canadian and international newspapers regarding the Asian exodus/expulsion as well as other materials. Below are a whole bunch of photos from the day and as always feel free to comment or ask any questions :)
Some members of the Canadian immigration
team sent to Kampala and Senator Jaffer
The official study room in honour
of the Fakirani Family
Some of the posters from the opening

Photo of the study room
dedication (thanks Samia!)
Mike Molloy speaking about the immigration
team working in Uganda
Add caption
Being a nerd and checking out the exhibits
and rocking out with the "boot"

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