A group of Haitians wait to cross the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec from New York in late August. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Refugee brings life experience to her new job leading the Canadian Council of Refugees

  • December 19, 2017
The new president of the Canadian Council of Refugees knows what it’s like to be a refugee in Canada, because she’s living it right now.

Claire Roque from the Philippines has been in Canada’s refugee determination system since 2011.

“I am still a refugee. Any refugee will have fear,” Roque told The Catholic Register, after being elected at the council’s annual general meeting Dec. 2.

She hesitates to talk too much about her own case, but she’s aware that her new position heading up Canada’s premier organization advocating for refugees gives her credibility.

“To have personal experience puts me at a great advantage,” she said. “When I say (to a refugee) I know how you feel, it’s because I truly know how they feel. I’m not just saying it.”

Roque works daily with people who have arrived in Canada and claimed refugee status. She is employed by the Diocese of London as a “ministry specialist for inland protection of refugees.” She started there as a volunteer in 2011 and a year later was employed full time.

Roque, who will serve a two-year term as president, is not the first refugee to hold the position. She takes over from Loly Rico, co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre, who came to Canada from El Salvador in 1990. The FCJ Refugee Centre was established and is supported by the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

“For the members of the CCR, it’s a long-standing priority to make sure we have people with refugee experience among the leadership of the organization,” said Canadian Council for Refugees executive director Janet Dench.

Roque is grateful for the support she’s had from London Bishop Ron Fabbro.

At the Detroit-Windsor border crossing, the London diocese refugee ministry is seeing increased numbers and people from all parts of the world, Roque said. 

“We do have refugee claimants from everywhere,” she said. “Just this summer alone, Haiti — the ones who have crossed through Montreal have found their way to Windsor also.”

As president of the CCR, Roque hopes to push Ottawa into clearing the backlog of cases caught in the system.
“There is so much backlog that the processing times are just cruel,” she said.

The national refugee advocacy organization hopes Ottawa is listening when a refugee speaks for refugees.

“It’s disappointing to see Canada really not stepping up and not doing more for refugees,” Dench said.

“There’s a lot of strong passion and commitment to pressing for more.”

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