Maran was a journalist and owned his own media company in a country riddled with conflict. Believing that the media was a tool that he could use, he wanted to tell the story of his people to the world. Telling these stories was a way to protect his people and bring peace to his country. He faced horrible obstacles. His land became a place of massacre. At a certain point, he became helpless and lost the power to speak the truth and fight for freedom. He had few choices – die, surrender to the Government and become a journalist of propaganda, or flee. After his family was threatened because of his work, Maran fled.
Leaving his family, he paid a smuggler who promised to take him to a country where he would be safe. He had no choice about the country, only a small hope that he would eventually be safe.
Joining 75 other refugees, he was taken to an old rusted cargo ship and set out to sea. The journey was perilous and on a number of occasions Maran believed he would die at sea. They faced eight storms on the journey, during which they were tossed about in the lower deck of the ship like footballs kicked around a field.
In October 2009, planes appeared in the sky above the ship. Maran believed he had found safety. Upon arrival, all the passengers on the ship were arrested and held at gunpoint. They were put in a prison and all of their belongings were confiscated, including the journal Maran had written on the voyage. He had no idea what was happening and it was only by watching the television in the prison he found that all of the passengers on the ship were being portrayed as terrorists, and a threat to the safety and security of Canada.
Maran arrived in Canada on a ship called the Ocean Lady. He and the others on the ship were Tamils who had fled northern Sri Lanka, which in the summer of 2009 had become a place of massacre. After all of his ordeals, nothing was more painful to him than being portrayed as a terrorist to Canadians.
“For three years the Canadian government treated me with suspicion as a terrorist, as part of a propaganda campaign against refugees. This is not who I am. I am a human being who cares about other human beings. I am a journalist. My task is to make the world a safe and beautiful place for human beings,” says Maran.
Vulnerable, Exposed and Rights Denied
Some, like Maran, resort to potentially deadly journeys; and cross deserts or oceans in search of safety. Those who survive these journeys, like Maran often face a hostile reception in so-called ‘developed’ countries. They may face violence and intimidation from border guards including strip searches, theft, or a push back at gunpoint to the country from which they have just fled. Others are detained in cramped compounds where they endure stifling heat without adequate shade or shelter and are denied sufficient water and medical help. Many countries link refugees to criminals or terrorists and promote language which suggests refugees are a threat to our security and safety.
Maran continues to carry the suffering of his people in his heart and mind, as violence and massacres continue, in countries like Sri Lanka, Syria, South Sudan, and Colombia. All too often apathy, political alliances and point-scoring trump human rights. While politicians and diplomats drag their feet and debate points of order, houses are being burned to the ground and families are forced to run.
Developing Countries Shoulder the Responsibilities
In the case of Syria, despite their relative economic disadvantage, developing countries are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Pakistan the top five refugee hosting countries. In 2013, three of those countries – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – registered receiving a total of 1,524,979 refugees from Syria alone.
In contrast, the USA records resettling just 36 Syrian refugees in 2013 – although it resettles thousands more from other countries. The 28 countries of the EU have pledged to resettle 30,498 Syrians, although the vast majority – 25,500 – will be resettled in Germany. Canada reports that it has provided protection for 1300 Syrians.
The self-styled world leaders are lagging far-behind the developing world when it comes to bearing the burden of the global refugee crisis.
Maran has been recognized as a convention refugee in Canada, and with his new found freedom, he continues to advocate on behalf of those whose rights are being denied. On World Refugee Day, Maran urges all of us to use the freedoms we have to speak out, and take action to help so many others whose rights continue to be denied so that all who need protection will be treated with humanity and dignity.