Text: Justin G. Murgai
Photos : Sid Ahmed Tfeil
World Refugee Day, falling on 20 June each year, has undeniably been one of the most significant of annual events in my work with refugees and asylum seekers these past 10 years. The power of the event is felt around the world where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people come together to stand in support of those who have been forced to leave their homes because of war and persecution.
Before moving to Montreal, I had been developing a month of celebrations to commemorate the occasion in Hong Kong. Needless to say, I was disappointed to have moved before being able to attend these events, but I was equally curious to see how Montreal honours this important day.
Just a few days ahead of World Refugee Day, I was invited by Rivo (where I am currently volunteering) to attend an event, titled “Together we build a stronger Quebec”, organized by Action Réfugiés Montréal, Rivo-Resilience, and other refugee-serving organizations in Montreal. The day began with musical performances and a peaceful march with over 300 refugees and supporters from Montreal walking in solidarity carrying signs that read “thank you for giving us a home, Canada!”… “We welcome refugees!”
The message was a genuine one too as I learnt from speaking with refugees and supporters throughout the course of the day. As one of them said, “I tried seeking asylum in other countries, and waited and waited. Then I came to Canada… and the situation is so different here. You can feel the humanity here. People really are welcoming. From the first day, I can say that I feel Canadian. I can say that I have a home.”
We ended the day at St-Jax Montréal Church where community organizations, refugees, and the public gathered to celebrate the diversity refugees bring to Montreal with dance, music and artistic performances from different cultures. A harrowing but beautifully dramatized performance about the plight of Syrian refugees closed the commemoration, with its final scene showing the importance of care we can give as individuals, and as a community, to ease the suffering, transition, and integration of our new neighbours.
Being a refugee is not a choice, but it is in our very hands to make a pledge this World Refugee Day to donate, volunteer, or simply open your arms to support those have been affected by organized violence around the world.
Justin G. Murgai is a Community Relations & Sustainability Consultant for Centre for Refugees, an East-Asian initiative providing comprehensive welfare and mental health support to victims of war, torture & persecution. He has been working on the front-lines with refugees and internally displaced persons for 10 years, and has recently moved to Montreal where he is presently volunteering for Rivo-Resilience.
The RIVO team at World Refugee Day:
Véronique Harvey, Justin G. Murgai (author of this text),
Sid Ahmed Tfeil (photos credits), Gabrielle Bélanger-Dumontier
and Maisan Al Masalkhi.