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Photos: WRD Community Launch

The “Waterloo Region Celebrates Refugees” community launch was hosted on June 1, 2016. This event featured world renowned Author and Speaker Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, local dignitaries, Crossing Borders youth performers, the Art Exhibition, a Silent Auction, and refreshments. 

The fourth annual WRD art exhibit will be on display at THEMUSEUM until June 26, 2016. For more information, please visit http://themuseum.ca

Photos courtesy of THEMUSEUM.

Hospitality and the Refugee Experience

Community volunteer, Director of Bring Back Hope, and Chair of the Immigration Partnership’s Belong Steering Group, Iman Arab, contrasts the journey of an immigrant and a refugee as a journey of pull versus push. While an immigrant is pulled toward a new opportunity and future, applying for visas, preparing for a journey and setting up settlement needs in their new country, a refugee’s journey is one of push – being forced out, with no preparation or plan, running for their lives. It is challenging to put ourselves in the shoes of someone being pushed out, escaping war and conflict, persecution and fear. People are pushed out from home, security, family, livelihoods, and places of belonging – facing an unknown future in an unknown place. Imagine it, imagine yourself, fleeing with babies and a few bags, setting out toward the unknown.

The journey of a refugee is choosing survival and existence over attachments to place and things – a journey of letting go and hoping for safety, protection and freedom. This is the journey of many in our world today. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who is, “…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Canada is a country with a long history of sponsoring, settling and offering hope and protection to people seeking refuge. By the end of February, the newly elected Liberal government had brought 25,000 refugees of the Syrian conflict to Canada. Waterloo Region has welcomed 1,112 people fleeing Syria including those who are Government Assisted and Privately Sponsored. This Region has come together with a settlement preparedness strategy and structure that encompasses community leaders, decision makers, government, non-profit organizations, business, faith and ethnocultural groups and community members to work to successfully welcome and support these newcomers and to ready our community and supports. Work is happening in areas such as housing, transportation, language support, health, community integration, advocacy and fundraising. This response is a work in progress and demonstrates the commitment and hospitality of people to make room and to welcome. (See WRwelcomesrefugees)

The Oxford dictionary defines hospitality as a noun, the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Hospitality can also be described as friendliness, compassion, reception, warmth, accommodation, generosity, and neighbourliness. When we welcome and offer refuge and support to those who are refugees, hospitality becomes a verb – it is an action. So, what is the action of hospitality in the face of so much loss – losing home, identity, language and culture, health, and more? While hospitality is the resettlement aspects of securing a home, attending school, learning English, and accessing services, it is also the acts of friendship and relationship. It is about listening and being there and taking the time so people can speak their identity and share their story, their culture, their food, their language, and their experiences.

While people may arrive as a refugee that is not who they are, that does not define them. Hospitality is about doing more together. The Immigration Partnership Belong Steering Group defines belonging as, “… an essential human need to be accepted and valued by others in order to reach one’s full potential in connecting, participating, integrating and thriving in the community.” The experience of belonging begins with the experience of hospitality. I am proud to live in this community.

Janet Howitt, Belong Steering Committee Immigration Partnership

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Media Release 2016 – World Refugee Day Waterloo Region Returns 

“Waterloo Region Celebrates Refugees”

Waterloo Region:  People in Waterloo Region have come together to welcome and support over 1200 refugees escaping Syria demonstrating we live in a community of protection and hope.  World Refugee Day (WRD) is an opportunity to recognize the stories of the refugee experience and to celebrate together.

In 2001, the United Nations declared June 20 as World Refugee Day – a day to recognize the journey and resilience of those fleeing persecution, war and conflict. While since 2001 this day has been observed in Kitchener Waterloo, over the past four years, events, observances and celebrations have been planned by many partners throughout the month of June across Waterloo Region.

The local 2016 theme is “Waterloo Region Celebrates Refugees.” Exciting highlights include:

•4th annual WRD Art Exhibit at THE MUSEUM visit – June 1-25 featuring local artists working in various mediums

• Launch event – June 1 at THE MUSEUM with guest speaker Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who authored ‘I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey’, who now calls Canada home

• Skating Party – June 4 from 12-1:30pm at Cambridge Centre Mall – come enjoy a Canadian pastime in the summer

• Reading the Refugee Experience with Tasneem Jamal, national journalist and local author of ‘Where the Air is Sweet’, a story of escaping Uganda, read along with newcomer youth sharing their stories  – June 13th at Kitchener Public Library, Central

•WRD Awards evening recognizing people who have come to our Region and those who have supported them – June 20th at Victoria Park Pavilion

•Return performance of ‘I am Rohingya’, the story of the Rohingya’s persecution and journey to our community performed by young people who have experienced this story – June 26 at UW  Theatre of the Arts

A growing listing of free community events and 2016 partners with contact information can be found at: www.worldrefugeedaywr.com. Immigration Partnership Waterloo Region is proud to partner with many local organizations and groups, including the Community Coalition for Refugee and Immigrant Concerns (CCORIC), to support the coordination and promotion of World Refugee Day Waterloo Region 2016.

For more information:

Janet Howitt, Immigration Partnership

jhowitt@regionofwaterloo.com

519.575.4757.3163

 

World Refugee Day WR: http://worldrefugeedaywr.com/

Facebook: World Refugee Day WR

United Nations: http://www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/

Immigration Partnership: http://www.immigrationwaterlooregion.ca/

 

Guest Contribution: The Significance of the Word “Refugee”

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My name is Courtney and I am a PhD student at Western University in London, where I study policy and practice related to refugee families within the field of education. Although I attend school in London, I have always lived in Kitchener, Ontario—I am drawn to the wonderful events, activities, and people here that make Kitchener such a dynamic place to be! I was thrilled to find out that Kitchener participates in World Refugee Day and even more thrilled to find out that this event lasts for the entire month of June. I began my research with a focus on immigrant mothers, but soon learned through feedback at various conferences that when conducting research with immigrant women who are refugees, it is important to state specifically that the participant is a refugee. This feedback sparked a flame within me to continue my studies but to be very clear about what message I am sending based on the word choice I use. In using the word “immigrant”, I was implying that the people in my study had chosen a life in Canada and had been active in the decision making process CasinoinUS to leave their home country (although I understand that in many cases, push factors do not really give people much choice in leaving, even if the move is based on immigration rather than seeking asylum). This choice to move to Canada was true for some of the people I was working with, but not true of others. Other women that I was working with at the time had left harsh conditions and spent time in camps and were without place for a significant period of time. As well, some of the women I was working with had been away from their home countries for a variety of reasons, and during their time away, unrest or disaster had affected their home country and they were unable to return. The difference between choosing and not choosing to leave or enter a country is significant and needs to be taken into account so that policy and practice surrounding refugee issues can be informed and useful. The theme of World Refugee Day this year really resonates with me: “Nobody chooses to be a refugee”. I encourage everyone to explore this theme throughout the month of June by participating in various activities and information sessions for World Refugee Day.

If you would like to contact me about my research or about participation in World Refugee Day, please feel free to email me at courtneyannebrewer@gmail.com or contact me on Twitter at @CourtneyABrewer.

Partner Contribution: Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support

I am new to immigration, refugee and settlement related work. Through schooling I am completing a six-month placement at the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support (MCRS), a local grassroots organization that supports refugee claimants in the refugee claim process. My time at MCRS has given me the chance to learn a great deal about a population that is seldom thought about in our day-to-day lives. Refugees come to Canada under extreme circumstances and hardships. There is a great deal of strength and resilience in these newcomers that I have been allowed to witness on a daily basis in the office.

 I have also seen great compassion and dedication from our volunteers in helping refugee claimants with the process. We are a small office and could not do the work we do without the amazing help from our volunteers. In April, as part of national volunteer week, we invited our volunteers for a night out to say THANK YOU for all the work that they do. We also created a video as to why MCRS volunteers are proud to protect refugees. It is fantastic to see the dedication they have to the fact that “no one chooses to be a refugee.”

 Through the help of not only MCRS’s volunteers but also countless other community organizations, we are getting ready to celebrate the upcoming World Refugee Day. I am looking forward for KW’s World Refugee Day (a.k,a month) Celebrations,  that recognizes the courage and strength of people forced to feel their homes, as I have had the opportunity to see this first hand.

 If you want to find out more about MCRS, visit us at mcrs.ca

 – Fran

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Guest Contribution: One Step at a Time Towards Change

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Refuge can be defined as “shelter or protection from danger or trouble, a place that provides shelter or protection, and a way out during difficulty.” Does not everyone deserve refuge, a place of safety and protection, especially those who have to flee their homes in order to escape danger? Just as the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day suggests, no one says “I think today would be a good day to be persecuted, chased away from my home and threatened; I think I want to be a refugee today”.

No one chooses to be a refugee – this statement may sound plain and obvious, but there is a heaviness and difficult complexity behind these words. This statement makes me think about the many perils that people have to face in order to survive and the difficult decisions they have to make. This statement makes me think of the lack of preparation a person has before they have to flee and the people they may be forced to leave behind. This statement makes me think of the struggles of feeling like you no longer belong somewhere and that you have suddenly lost the place you once called home. For so many, there really is no choice at all, no good choice that is – the choice is between staying and risking being involved in a conflict, or fleeing and risking the perils of a long journey to an unknown place.

So what? What can we do about any of that? While we may feel that these perils are happening somewhere far away from here and have nothing to do with dailycialisuse us, many people who have faced these struggles are our neighbours living right here in Kitchener-Waterloo – members of this community.

As individuals, we can start to raise our own awareness of what is going on in the larger world. We can start to educate ourselves on issues that refugees face overseas, as well as the difficulties of living here in Canada, in a place that is supposed to be one of refuge. We can volunteer or get involved with groups that support refugees. We can listen to the stories of other individuals who have faced this difficult journey. As part of a collective group, we can advocate for better supports for refugees within our country and we can teach others around us about the issues they face. As part of a community, we can support the organizations and groups that help refugees throughout the process of coming to and settling in a new place. We can be welcoming neighbours with open arms and we can celebrate the contributions that refugees have made to this community.

This year, join the Kitchener-Waterloo community in raising awareness about the realities that many refugees face. Start learning more about their experiences by attending some of the community events and listen to the rich stories that are being shared. Every step we take as individuals and as a community in raising awareness and getting involved is one more step toward creating change.

– Christina

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Partner Contribution: Waterloo Public Library

Waterloo Public Library is pleased to once again participate in World Refugee Day activities in the Region. We believe public libraries can play an important role in the settlement process of newcomers and we are proud to offer services, resources and information to facilitate the transition of individuals and families to life in Canada.

In collaboration with the KW Multicultural Centre and Kitchener Public Library, WPL is pleased to host a series of engaging film and speaker sessions throughout the month of June in honour of World Refugee Day. At each event, audiences will have the opportunity to view award winning documentaries detailing the experiences of refugee communities around the world. Following the films, speakers will parallel the experiences of those featured in the films to those of from similar refugee communities who have settled in Waterloo Region. We anticipate these sessions will be open, enlightening and engaging online gambeling conversations. Preregistration is not required for this free event. 

June 5th, 6:30pm Waterloo Public Library, Main Library – Moving to Mars, featuring speakers: Eh Taw Boe  Wai and Hser Ta Kay

Follow two families as they flee a refugee camp in Burma and establish new lives in the United Kingdom.

 

June 11th, 6:30pm Waterloo Public Library, Main Library – Last Chance, featuring speaker: Mandy Cowan

Refugees from around the world seek asylum in Canada to escape the persecution they have faced as a result of their sexual orientations.

 

June 19th, 6:30pm Waterloo Public Library, Main Library – Rain in a Dry Land, featuring speaker: Rahmah  Omar

Bantu families persecuted in their native Somalia arrive in urban America with hope for the future.

 

June 28th, 2:00pm Kitchener Public Library, Central Location – Everybody’s Children, featuring speakers: Wendy Adema and Eltag Elkhalifa

Follow a year in the life to two teenage refugees who have fled their home countries to establish new lives in Ontario.

 

Knowing the richness of culture, ideas and literature brought to Canada by refugees, we are also pleased to share our June featured titles honouring World Refugee Day. This collection of recommended titles offers both fiction and non-fiction accounts of refugee experiences from many different countries. From the newest releases of Ishmael Beah and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche to current events chronicles of  today’s refugee crises, this list is full of must reads for those interested in global conflict, migration and refugee issues. All titles listed are available through Waterloo Public Library.

– Laura; Manager, Branches, WPL

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