A few dozen people gathered Sunday afternoon in St. John’s to rally in support of refugees arriving in Canada from Syria and other countries experiencing war and other life-threatening conditions.
Organized by the Social Justice Co-operative of Newfoundland and Labrador, the event brought together people who supported the ideas of compassion, acceptance and helping others, regardless of their faith or origin.
“Love thy Muslim neighbour,” one person’s sign read. “Will trade racists for refugees,” said another.
The rally comes at a time when Canada is welcoming thousands of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and other parts of the Middle East, many of whom practice Islam. In recent weeks and months, however, some in Newfoundland and Labrador and other parts of Canada have expressed fear of the refugees in the form of bigotry, Islamophobia and racism.
The inhumane response recently prompted Newfoundland and Labrador’s Human Rights Commission Chair Remzi Cej, a former refugee himself, to write an open letter in the Globe and Mail to refugees coming to Canada, explaining to them the anti-Muslim sentiment and fear of newcomers.
“While most Canadians are happy you’re coming here, your refugee status is making some people distrustful of your identity. Some Canadians may think you are bringing violence with you, and don’t see that you are here exactly because you want to escape conflict,” he wrote. “Much of that comes from some Canadians’ inability to relate to your experience – some read the news and worry about 25,000 strangers coming to their country. They don’t know that since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States took in over 740,000 refugees, and yet of those, no one was even accused of domestic terrorism.”
Cej and his family arrived in Canada in 2000 after fleeing the violence in Kosovo. He pursued a university degree at Memorial University and went on to become a Rhodes Scholar and then the chair of the province’s Human Rights Commission.
Another Kosovar who came to Canada during that time is Elbonita Kozhani, who published a Facebook post on Nov. 16 sharing her story and photos from Kosovo that depict the refugee crisis unfolding there at the time. The post has been shared almost 25,000 times.
Kozhani, a photographer, attended the rally in St. John’s and took these photos, which tell the rest of this story…