Hundreds of people filled Fredericton City Hall’s front yard on Saturday, Dec. 12 to extend a warm welcome to Syrian refugees who will soon be arriving in the city. The rally also called for more humane refugee and immigration policies and made the connections between Canada’s foreign policies and the refugee crisis.
Refugees Welcome Fredericton organized the rally. Almost 40 organizations, including the NB Federation of Labour, representing 40,000 workers in this province, unions, cultural associations, faith-based groups, social justice groups, media organizations and political party associations, endorsed the rally. David Coon, Fredericton South’s MLA and Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick, also endorsed the rally. Matt Decourcey, Fredericton/Oromocto Liberal MP, attended the rally.
Ron Tremblay, Wolastoq Grand Council Chief, opened the rally and reminded the crowd that Fredericton is located on unceded Wolastoq territory. He extended a welcome to Syrian refugees. The Refugees Welcome network takes seriously indigenous sovereignty and is working towards raising consciousness about the responsibilities of everyone to the Peace and Friendship treaties that exist in the province of New Brunswick.
Asaf Rashid, a Refugees Welcome Fredericton organizer, called for Canada to bring in more refugees since Canada continues to bomb Syria and contribute to the conditions that turn people into refugees. Canada through its military exports, mining companies, trade agreements and destructive climate policies is responsible for far more than the 25,000 refugees that Canada is promising to bring in over the next few months.
There are at least 60 million refugees in the world — the highest number of refugees ever recorded. Over half of these refugees are from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. Canada, the U.S., France, Russia and other European countries have recently bombed Syria. Trudeau promised before his election as Prime Minister to stop Canada’s military intervention in Syria but Canadian fighter jets were still bombing Syria in mid-November, according to media reports.
Layla Rahmeh, who came to New Brunswick as a refugee from Syria three and a half years ago and now resides in Saint John, addressed the Fredericton crowd. When she came to Canada, she says she did not imagine that her home country would become a place where she could not return. She called for peace in Syria. Rahmeh has a radio show on CFMH 107.3 FM called Here is Damascus that is meant to celebrate the beauty and culture of Syria. She says that people only hear about war and the bad about Syria.
The Fredericton crowd wore yellow armbands to show that they welcome refugees. Many wrote heartfelt messages such as “you are loved and welcomed” on cards. The messages will be translated into Arabic and given to the refugees entering Fredericton. Yona Altahir, a youth with the Iraqi Association of Fredericton, gave a heartfelt welcome to Syrian friends about to join Fredericton’s community.
Monika Stelzl, a St. Thomas University psychology professor who came to Canada 25 years ago as a refugee from Czechoslovakia, thanked Mrs. MacDonald, a teacher in Halifax, who encouraged her to finish high school at a time when she thought she would never do so because of the many challenges she faced. She says she hopes to follow Mrs. MacDonald example and do the same for a refugee about to arrive in Fredericton.
Syed Hussan, a Refugees Welcome organizer, says, “This is the moment for linking across struggles and transforming people’s care and rage towards a powerful anti-displacement, pro-migrant justice movement which puts racial, economic, gender and social justice at its centre. Without it, we risk forgetting about African refugees, those in detention centres, migrant workers in our midst, and the many undocumented. That work has barely started.”
Tracy Glynn is an organizer with Refugees Welcome Fredericton.