Among the many emails I received in January 2019, one was from a young father named Mahdi,* a Syrian refugee in Jordan with his wife and their 2 young children. His mother fled with them when they left Syria. I do not know what happened to his father. He has not said, and I have not asked.
Over the course of the year we have become friends of a sort. He has internet access and time, so he has learned alot about Canada. Unlike others, he knows that it is not winter all year round in Canada!
"I know that Canada has a summer, but with nice temperatures, Canada's winter is warm like the hearts of Canadians and the gentle autumn like the smiles of Canadians and spring gives the fragrance from the heart of Canadians and the summer is as beautiful as the morals of Canadians, a tribute to the land that received the stranger and refugees gently and generously from all over the earth."
If he ever makes it here and spends a winter in any part of Canada other than Vancourver Island I expect he may describe it differently!
Kitala first contact AGC RSI in November 2017. We have emailed back and forth several times over these past two years. In my efforts to better understand what life is like for refugees, I asked Kitala if he would take some photos and write to explain for us who are so far removed from his experience what life is like for them in a refugee camp. Kitala lives in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya that hosts over 186,000 refugees. These are his words and his photos.
First and foremost, Kakuma refugee camp has a semi-arid climate with temperature reaching 40 degrees Celsius. The area is always full of dust storms, poisonous spiders, snakes, and scorpions. Outbreaks of malaria, pneumonia, and cholera do not spare refugees, and 3 months ago, one of my neighbors died with cholera.
A poem by Pastor Farshid Fathi
Born in 1979, Farshid has been working in ministry since 1997. In the years 2001 – 2005, he was instrumental in planting 48 underground house churches in his native Iran.
On 25 December 2010, Farshid was arrested along with a number of other church leaders. He was kept 361 days in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, often enduring severe interrogation. In March 2011 Farshid was sentenced to six years in prison for acting against national security through evangelism and promoting Christianity. In 2014 prison guards broke Farshid’s foot and thumb during a prison search. Farshid was later transferred to Rajaei Shahr Prison and released on 21 December 2015. While Farshid was in prison, his wife took their two children to Canada, where they have applied for citizenship.
Today, he remains in Turkey registered as an asylum seeker, but still not recognised as a refugee. Toronto area churches, this is an opportunity for you!
My wilderness is painful, but lovely.
Some parts of my wilderness are covered with thorns and hurt my feet,
but I love it, and that's why I call it 'lovely pain'.
My wilderness is so hot that my tears disappear before falling on the ground,
but it is cool under Your shadows.
Josephine first contactedin October 2017. Their family of 4 had arrived in Bangkok in September 2012, but by the time she contacted us, she was caring for her 2 teenaged children alone. Her husband was in the Immigration Detention Centre ... again. William had previously been arrested for overstaying his visa and incarcerated for 18 months before being released in May 2015. In May 2016 he was arrested again. His visa was still expired and he was not willing to return with his family to their native Pakistan. He remains in the IDC today.
I have been emailing with Josephine semi-regularly since that first contact a year and a half ago. I have long admired her resilience, strength of character and love for Jesus.
Last week her daughter Yashap wrote to tell me she had written an essay that had been published in an American on-line magazine. I was certain you would want to hear her words.
I have often wondered what it would be like to be forced from my home - not just my house, but my city ... my province ... my country. To have to leave, not because I want to, but because there is NO. OTHER. OPTION.
When it comes times to flee, how does one get from Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong? Is that intentional, or does it "just happen" as seemingly insignificant choices are made until eventually one finds themselves 10,000km from where they began.
And now, life in a new country ... a new language, a new culture, new people, no family. Where does one start? To find housing? To find work? Is it even possible to work as an asylum seeker? This is not a new home; this is just a place to stop-over. Because 98% of refugee claimants are refused. So where does one begin? How does one live?
In recent weeks, the number of new asylum seekers, mainly from Haiti, crossing the US border into Quebec has risen dramatically. On Friday, August 11, as many as 1,200 people were waiting to file refugee claims in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec.
UNHCR Representative Jean-Nicolas Beuze was interviewed on CTV News to address the situation. Watch the 4 minute video below to find out: why so many asylum seekers are heading to Quebec, why they are leaving the US, if there is any substance to the fear that the province of Quebec will be overloaded by the sheer number of refugees, and what determines if an asylum seeker can stay in Canada.
Psychologist Arthur Aron said that four minutes of eye contact brings people closer to each other better than everything else. In this video Amnesty International experiments with that idea by pairing up Europeans and refugees who have never met before.
Unfortunately many people draw a direct connection between accepting Syrian refugees and welcoming terrorists - some going so far as to state that receiving refugees is the cause of terror attacks in the receiving countries.
This belief defies logic because refugees are fleeing the same terror that has already been done in their country. If an arsonist burns down an apartment building and it's residents begin to look for somewhere safe to live, who would deny them help because "everybody from that building is an arsonist and all they want to do is burn all our apartment buildings down too"?
Dadaab, Kenya, is an area of 5 refugee camps that was home to 329,811 people as of October 2015. Laura Secorun Palet has written an excellent article on this refugee camp that has become a city - a reminder to us all that the worldwide refugee crisis extends far beyond the current Syrian conflict.
You can read her article here.