SASKATOON — A diverse crowd gathered under sunny skies at City Hall in Saskatoon June 20 to mark Refugee Day with a noon-hour program that included speakers, music, dance and poetry.
Participants of all ages and backgrounds joined in. Some carried signs with messages such as: “My door is open to refugees,” “Protect the children,” “Hopes, dreams, justice,” “Take one minute to support a family forced to flee,” “We stand together with refugees,” and “Live, love, laugh.”
Master of ceremonies Anthony Olusola introduced speakers, musicians, dancers, and poets, encouraging the crowd to support those from around the world who must flee for their lives from violence and persecution.
Zainab Al-Musawi, one of those who addressed the crowd, described the challenges and hardships she and her family endured to escape Iraq, before arriving in Saskatoon five years ago. “Refugees, like anyone else, have hopes and dreams for their children,” she said. “My family and I are lucky enough to be among those limited numbers to get resettlement to countries like Canada.”
Assisted by the Open Door Society when she first arrived, Al-Musawi now helps that organization to welcome and support other refugees coming to the community. “I feel proud to be part of a welcoming society,” she said.
A Grade 8 student at Greystone Heights School who arrived in Saskatoon with her family as a refugee from Syria just a few months ago also spoke, expressing thanks to all who have helped along the way,especially her teachers. “There are many students learning English like me. When I came to Greystone Heights I felt like I had a home again. I was not scared,” she said.
“In Syria, my mom was scared for me to go to school. In Saskatoon she knows I am safe. I want to thank my mom and dad for bringing me to Canada. It was hard for them to leave their brothers and sisters, but they did it for me,” she said.
“I am so happy to go to school. In Jordan and Syria I could not go to school for five years. Now I can go to university and be an EAL teacher, or a doctor for babies.” She thanked Canadians and Prime Minister Trudeau “for opening Canada to us.”
Elisha Muembo, a refugee from Congo who is now studying at the University of Saskatchewan, performed a song accompanied by Tanjalee Khul and Eric Kaninda, singing about the pain of being a refugee, not knowing “what home looks like.”
Saskatoon poet Ahmad Majid performed poetry about the struggles, pain and hopes of refugees, including a tribute to his father, who came to Canada as a refugee from Iraq.
Helen Smith-McIntyre, chair of the Saskatoon Refugee Coalition, also addressed the crowd. “One of the points we are asked to make today is for each of us to think about what we can do to support refugees,” she said.
Smith-McIntyre pointed out that those who come to Canada as refugees are soon reaching out to help others — for instance, stepping up to offer assistance to those displaced by recent wildfires at Fort McMurray.
“People who have been here for generations and newcomers can work together to continue to make this a welcoming place for refugees,” she said.
The UNHCR reports that right now there are 21.3 million refugees among the 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. Some 54 per cent of these come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.