By Sarah Carr
With over 60 million people facing displacement today, the global refugee crisis has received increasing media attention and political debate. The representation of refugees that we see in the news is often the singular image of those struggling to survive, risking their lives to flee hardship, and trying to make ends meet in a new country. What we often do not see is what comes next for these people; how they have made something from nothing and continue building.
Increasingly we hear how refugees and former refugees have gone on to lead dignified and hopeful lives, not only succeeding on their own but contributing to those around them. RIJ philosophy is based on the knowledge that people can achieve a lot if they are simply given the opportunity to do so.
The recent Canadian elections have shown us just that. Maryam Monsef fled Afghanistan as a child with her widowed mother and two sisters, eventually finding refuge in Canada. As a result of the Soviet invasion, her family was forced to move back and forth between Afghanistan and Iran, where her father eventually lost his life as a result of crossfire at the border.
Speaking to Huffington Post, Monsef described those years caught in the conflict, saying “It’s not a dignified way of living”. She describes how her mother struggled to provide for the family, the feeling of being unwelcome in a foreign nation, and the constant threat of deportation. Even after fleeing to Canada, Monsef continued to face the difficulties of adapting to a new nation as a young girl who did not even understand the language.
But her family did not have to struggle alone for long, as she recalls the kindness of the local community in supporting the family’s efforts to integrate. Overcoming years of hardship and loss, Monsef has recently been appointed Canada’s youngest democratic institutions minister as part of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 31-member cabinet. Reflecting back, she says, “Twenty years later … that kindness stays with me, and I hope that as a member of Parliament, I can repay some of that through my service.”
Her plans to tackle women’s issues, pay equity and domestic violence speak to the enduring strength and determination of many refugees today. Years after fleeing for her life as a child, Monsef has shown that those facing displacement are not simply confined to the label of “refugee”, but offer a much broader range of skills and have countless experiences that allow them to rise above their circumstances and contribute to creating a better and more hopeful world for us all.