The refugee rap video funded by Toronto refugee office

  • February 26, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - When a 14-year-old boy from Sri Lanka arrived on his doorstep in Accra, Ghana, with little ability to communicate in English, 26-year-old Michael Baah saw firsthand just how difficult it can be for refugees to get help.

So he made a music video about it.

The video, “Refugee Appeal,” produced by Martin Mark, director of the Office for Refugees of the archdiocese of Toronto, was posted on YouTube shortly before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared Piratheeprajh SriVijayarajarajan a vulnerable, at risk youth in need of expedited processing.

“The boy came to us through Martin and I said I want to raise awareness, so I sat down and wrote the song,” Baah told The Catholic Register from Accra.

Baah had met refugees on the streets of Accra, and had visited friends in a nearby refugee camp. He knew that refugees in Ghana often turned to prostitution “because that is where they can get the money,” and refugees were known for being “engaged in bad acts like robbery and smoking of weed.”

Through Mark he learned more about the circumstances that drive refugees to such extremes and how much danger these refugees face if deported back to the countries they fled, with no money, no job to return to and often with the threat of being killed a reality.

He could not believe how long it was taking for the boy to gain approval for entry into Canada to be with his uncle.

“It was through (SriVijayarajarajan) that I got the passion to write a song about refugees because when he came to Ghana he suffered a lot and went through a lot of hardships,” said Baah.

The hardships included being abandoned in Ghana by an agent allegedly hired by his parents to help him escape from war-torn Sri Lanka. Then, not knowing anyone or having anyone to provide for him, he was robbed on the street and lived among people he could barely communicate with because of his lack of English. Having been in Ghana for a year, SriVijayarajarajan escaped many of the perils faced by other refugee children, but even though life improved for the boy once Mark came on the scene and placed him in Baah’s home, he was still alone because of the language barrier.

Baah said he often saw the Sri Lankan teen crying and for a while, he barely ate.

Mark said Baah asked so many questions about why the boy couldn’t leave Ghana that Mark sat down with him for a three-day crash course on refugee protection, sharing his frustrations of dealing with Citizen and Immigration officials at the Canadian embassy in Accra.

“Reading the lyrics of the song, it’s really very appealing and includes a lot of reference to my experience,” Mark said.

As Baah sings the refrain of “No helper, less givers, bad shelter. No one to say I’m with you brother come to the camps and see suffering. So you got to help, so you got to help,” he is accompanied by refugee children at the camp where he filmed “Refugee Appeal.”

“They said that was the first time anyone came to raise awareness about what they are suffering and the whole community was supporting me,” Baah said.

The video also features SriVijayarajarajan, now living in Toronto with his uncle, who sang a line in his own tongue about children needing help.

Mark and the office for refugees raised funds to pay the recording costs at the studio where Baah works.

“Because of the hardship I go through, because I see young people going into prostitution, so I developed a passion to help people and when I went into music, most of my songs were about people who are struggling and in need.”

His recent productions have focused on other social justice topics including AIDS education and a disabled cyclist who fought for the rights of the disabled in Ghana.

Mark hopes to bring Baah to Canada for a special performance to further raise awareness about the plight of refugees worldwide this summer. A concert is also in the works for the spring.


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