Submitted by Lauren Kelly, Executive Assistant
Fact: 51.2 million men, women, and children are displaced by crises around the world. Find out more at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) website, http://www.unhcr.ca/
June 18, 2015 marked the beginning of a series of events in Greater Victoria and around the world in recognition of World Refugee Day (WRD). On the Thursday evening, Gregor Craigie of CBC’s On the Island moderated a panel discussion on the topic of Pathways to Citizenship for Refugees. Featured panelists included Gerald Pash, Citizenship Judge; Peter Golden, refugee and immigration lawyer; Atong Deng, former refugee and new citizen; and Alvaro Moreno, Director of Settlement Programs at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. The panelists explored the relationship between citizenship and refugees and focused, in particular, on the regulatory and systemic barriers to full participation in Canadian society faced by refugees and other newcomers.
The following day, politicians, advocates, and community members with and without refugee background gathered at City Hall for a flag-raising ceremony. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) flag was raised after the reading of a declaration by Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, marking the 64th Anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and Canada’s responsibility as a signatory to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Mayor Lisa Helps, and Council members Jeremy Loveday and Chris Coleman, also attended the event in show of their support.
During the flag-raising ceremony, ICA staff member Lien Tran shared her personal story about arriving to Canada as a refugee. Lien has been a dedicated Settlement Worker at ICA for over 25 years, and continues to advocate on behalf of refugees:
“Because of my experience, I have a strong commitment to assisting refugee communities in easing their trauma and stress and in helping them establish their new and happy lives, and become contributing members of Canadian society.”
Lien’s speech served as a reminder of the ongoing efforts by refugees and advocates to uphold universal rights associated with protection, safety, and security for all peoples around the world.
On Saturday, June 20, World Refugee Day participants gathered at the Greater Victoria Public Library to engage with local organizations focused on raising awareness and providing resources in the community. The well-attended event offered activities for participants to pin their place of birth on a map, share personal stories through art, and enjoy a variety of food and music throughout the afternoon. ICA’s interactive station drew a lot of attention: members of the public were asked to distinguish between immigrants, refugees, and Canadian-born citizens by identifying well-known individuals from their pictures. Participants in this exercise quickly realized that it is impossible to tell one from the other!
The acknowledgement of the traditional Lekwungen territory on which we all share space with First Nations communities was an integral aspect of WRD events around Greater Victoria. We appreciate the opportunity to engage in these discussions in partnership with First Nations communities, and will continue to work towards challenging dominant narratives and overcoming barriers in order to encourage greater access to human rights among all peoples.