by Gloria Nafziger, Campaigner, Refugees & Migrants, Amnesty International Canada
On June 14, under the banner of ‘My Door is Open for Refugees,’ Amnesty members and friends walked in support of refugees in Toronto. The streets of Toronto (at least those around Church and Wellesley) were alive with chants which could be heard many blocks away.
The walk in Toronto took us to the 519 Church Street Community Centre, an organization with a long history of supporting LGBTI refugees. We left a rainbow banner with Karlene Williams Clarke, an outreach coordinator at the Centre, in recognition of the tremendous work being done at the Centre on behalf of refugees.
The walk was a part of a larger action coordinated by the Canadian Council for Refugees, which encouraged groups across Canada to show solidarity and support for refugees on or around World Refugee Day.
Support to refugees and their right to seek asylum is more critical now than ever before. On World Refugee Day, June 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reminded us that the intolerance that is often at the root of internal displacement and refugee flows is also present in some of the countries that refugees flee to. Instead of finding empathy and understanding, refugees are often met with mistrust or scorn. Sadly in 2014 the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people. This massive increase was driven mainly by the war in Syria.
Not since World War II has it been so important for all countries of the world to keep their doors open for refugees. On June 13 I attended an event hosted by the Syrian Canadian Foundation for Humanity to promote the need for resettlement and protection for Syrian refugees. A small group of 30 or so people (mostly Syrians) participated in the event, and many wondered what they need to do to make the world care about their families and friends who are living under siege or have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
World Pride followed on the heels of World Refugee Day, where well over one million people celebrated achievements in obtaining rights for LGBTI people around the world and recognized countries in which so much more work still needs to be done. Not all LGBTI refugees will find protection when they need it, and many countries do not recognize asylum claims which are based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Amnesty members across Canada need to continue to find ways to help keep Canada’s doors open to refugees. While walking under a banner or posting a status update on Facebook may not change the world, these messages help to convey messages of support in a world which is increasingly hostile towards refugees. “My Door Is Open for Refugees” banners are available from the Toronto Office of Amnesty International.