By Jonathan Bradley
A panel discussion exploring the experiences of refugees seeking asylum in Canada was held at the Oakham Lounge at Ryerson University on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. The panel discussion, called Migration and Social Justice: Supporting Refugee Communities, was an event for Ryerson’s Social Justice Week. The event took place to highlight some of the significant challenges refugees face as they adapt to life in Canada.
Muhammed Aboura is a Syrian refugee who spoke at Migration and Social Justice. Aboura was born to a Syrian mother and Palestinian father in Damascus, Syria. Aboura fled Syria in 2014 and arrived in Toronto as a privately sponsored refugee.
“My experience as a refugee was a rollercoaster journey. I was fortunate to be a privately sponsored refugee, which helped make my settlement successful for the first twelve months,” said Aboura.
He said that it was stressful trying to go back to school because his transcripts had been burned when his university caught fire. Aboura also said it was a struggle finding a job once he arrived in Canada.
Despite the challenges, he said coming to Canada was the best option especially because of the narrative of multiculturalism.
“It is a mixed bag of people,” said Aboura. “I would not have chosen any other country now if I could have decided where to go.”
Aziza Khalifa, a third-year social work student, attended the panel because of her keen interest in refugee and immigration issues. Khalifa plans on pursuing a career advocating for refugees.
“Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. They’re just normal people who have just gone through such traumatic experiences, and people might not understand the trauma they have been through,” she said. “What they’re looking for is a safe haven where they can start a new life. It’s an issue that we have to bring more attention to.”
Tamara Sabarini, the project coordinator of the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge (RULSC), spoke about their efforts helping refugees.
RULSC motivates people from Toronto and the GTA to help privately sponsored Syrian refugees. Sabarini said that RULSC has sponsored 430 Syrian refugees, and 340 of them have arrived in Canada since it started in July 2015.
Sabarini said she wanted to help out with RULSC because she is Palestinian and there are many Syrian refugees with Palestinian origins.
Michael Battista, an immigration and refugee partner lawyer, founded a non-profit group in 2006 to help LGBTQ refugees. The Rainbow Railroad group was created after activists went to World Pride in Tel Aviv, Israel and observed the problems queer Palestinians went through, including being occasionally imprisoned for their identity.
Battista’s Rainbow Railroad organization recently helped 35 LGBTQ Chechens fleeing persecution in Russia’s Chechen Republic.
Battista said that the toughest hurdle for refugees is the visa system. He said white western countries are favoured in the visa system while Middle Eastern refugees will likely be discriminated against.
After attending the event, Mehma Kaur, a third year social work student, said she wanted to give back to grassroots community agencies helping refugees.
Attendees were also encouraged to provide support by volunteering at refugee shelters and listening to the stories of refugees in their community.