Development and Peace Toronto’s youth council hosted a dialogue on the refugee crisis May 27 in Toronto. Photo by Maria Montemayor

D&P engage youth on global refugee crisis

By  Maria Montemayor, Youth Speak News
  • June 3, 2016

TORONTO – The next generation of leaders needs to be informed about the plight of refugees, said Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace youth council member Amanda Cacilhas.

Cacilhas spoke May 27 as the Development and Peace Toronto youth council hosted an evening dialogue entitled “Refugee Dialogues: What we know from Syria and beyond” to raise awareness of the issues affecting Syrian refugees starting a new life in Canada.

“There is a lot of youth that want to help the refugee crisis but they don’t exactly know how. We wanted to bring awareness that even though the Syrian refugee crisis has been going on for years, it’s not just Syria we need to focus on, we need to focus on refugees all around the world,” said Cacilhas, who also works as an intern with Development and Peace.

Cacilhas said it’s important youth hear the stories of refugees to connect with the issue on a personal level.

“It is really important to eliminate ignorance especially when it comes to stereotypes. With the Syrians coming over, there is a lot of really negative, false stereotypes associated with them and I think with youth, not only can they teach other youth, but also adults,” she said. 

The evening’s panelists came from diverse backgrounds. Each shared personal experiences working with refugees. Some were refugees themselves, including Amal Kanafani, founder and executive director of Auntie Amal Community Centre in Toronto, which provides clothing, furniture and food to those in need. Kanafani was a young mother when her husband died and had to raise her two daughters on her own. When political issues in Syria arose, Kanafani came to Canada where her mother had arrived before her. Her mother passed away a year later. At first she was alone, but later was supported and helped by people in the community. This is what inspired her to start her own charitable organization. 

Waleed Abdulhamid, a Sudanese musician who toured across Europe and had lived in Sweden, was also a panelist. In 1992, he left Sudan and headed to Canada where he found the job market difficult. Eventually, he found a job distributing mail. He currently teaches at Toronto’s Humber College and is open to mentoring refugees who have a passion for music.

Throughout the question-and-answer period guest speakers and audience members were able to engage in open dialogue about ways in which people can help refugees. Anne Woolger, founder and executive director of the Matthew House Refugee Services, and Samia Tecle, Refugee Sponsorship Training Program trainer, were there to share their expertise.

One audience member asked Woolger about what needs to change in the refugee claimant process. In the regular process, a refugee has to present himself in front of an Immigration and Refugee Board member and share his story of persecution. It’s then in the board member’s hands if refugee status is granted. 

“I continue to wish that there is just more public awareness of the plight of claimants. A lot more positive rhetoric needs to be given to explain who they are, that they are legitimately in need of protection, that they are legitimately coming here,” said Woolger.  

Development and Peace youth ambassador Wengsi Chiu said the evening was a great success. She said youth have innate skills they can offer to the refugee cause.

“I think youth are very engaged in global affairs and I think they are conscious citizens as well. With youth we have good energy, good ideas (and) a different way of thinking that we can offer this fight for social justice,” said Chiu.

(Montemayor, 23, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts for English and political science from University of Toronto.)

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