Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, centre, joins students and teachers who went to Ottawa to present postcards asking the government to address the causes of the global migration crisis. Photo courtesy Development and Peace

Luke Stocking: Students send message

  • May 24, 2019

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration gestured to the buildings surrounding us on Parliament Hill. “These are the people’s houses,” said the Honourable Ahmed Hussen. “These are your institutions — please feel free and at home.” 

He had come to meet 50-plus students and teachers from Catholic elementary and high schools, a group organized by Development and Peace to bring the voice of more 11,000 students to Ottawa. That voice was in the form of postcards, signed in schools, asking the government to do more to address the root causes of the global migration crisis while continuing to support the 68.5 million people in the world who have fled their homes. 

Hussen is no stranger to forced migration. He was a refugee from Somalia who lived in a Kenyan refugee camp before flying on a plane for the first time in his life. That flight was to Canada. 

“The issues that you raise around forced migration and how Canada can be even more welcoming to refugees are so important. I am so inspired by the fact that you are involved at a young age in these issues and trying to understand how to resolve the root causes that force people to flee their homes — that’s really important.” 

Students met 12 other Members of Parliament in addition to the minister at a reception hosted by Francesco Sorbara, the member for Vaughan-Woodbridge. Sorbara hosted the reception at the request of one of his constituents, Sophia Trozzo. A Grade 12 student at St. Jean de Brebeuf High School, Trozzo is the student trustee for the York Catholic District School Board and serves as president of the Catholic Board Council of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association. 

Addressing her fellow students and MPs at the reception she told them “being a Catholic leader is about getting involved. It’s about connecting your faith to social justice and service and federal lobbying. … Thank you for being here, for signing our action cards and bringing this campaign to your schools.” 

Sorbara added: “Helping the vulnerable, the afflicted, the poor, the downtrodden — those that need a home when they don’t have a home, those who need shelter when they don’t have a shelter — that’s what you folks are bringing here to Parliament Hill today. Those are the values that you represent, and you represent them proudly.”

Following the reception, we made a Share the Journey walk around Parliament Hill, celebrating the achievement of Canadians who, through churches and schools, walked more than 40,075 kilometres in solidarity with forced migrants. That is a distance equal to the circumference of the planet. (As of May 16, the number had reached 49,665 km). 

Three MPs — Raj Saini, Jennifer O’Connell with students from St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering, and James Maloney with the students of Bishop Allen in Etobicoke — joined the walk. Carrying “Share the Journey” banners, students chanted to the sound of the drum, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!” and “P-E-A-C-E help our global community!” 

The walk began and ended at the centennial flame, where we offered prayers of the faithful.

Reflecting on the experience of the trip with family at dinner the next day, my wife Joanna came back to the words of Hussen, “these are the people’s houses … feel free and at home.” 

These are striking words for a campaign on forced migration and for young Canadians in our Catholic schools. Your house and your home protect and nourish you. It is also a place for which you bear responsibility. 

Social change through democracy does not only happen at the ballot box. It happens every day through witness and action. 

These young people of faith were encouraged that day to exercise that responsibility by coming into the people’s houses with a voice 11,000-students strong and a desire for a world where no one is forced to flee their home. 

(Stocking is Development and Peace Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions.)

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