Refugees each have unique stories to tell

Sina Yetbarek and her family arrived in Canada just over four years ago from Uganda.

World Refugee Day is a day to raise awareness of the aspects and challenges of what a refugee goes through before becoming a refugee, during, and when they arrive to the new country by starting a new life all over again,” she says. “I think World Refugee Day is to remember everyone who lost their lives − to make it to a better country, a safer country.”

Yetbarek, a settlement worker, along with Hanadi Ibrahim, a visiting scientist in the chemistry department at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and Martina Scholtens, family physician, clinical instructor at UBC, and author will be sharing their stories during the World Refugee Day event at Burnaby Public Library June 19.

A time to reflect

Each refugee has a different story,” says Ibrahim, who came to Canada in 2013 after fleeing from Syria.

Both Ibrahim and Yetbarek left their home countries: Ibrahim with her husband, Yetbarek with her parents and seven siblings.

“To become a refugee is not an easy process. People flee their country for many reasons but not everyone safely makes it to another country. Many people die in the process,” says Yetbarek.

When demonstrations and violence began in Syria, Ibrahim decided to speak out and use her platform as a professor to voice her opinion. She released a video calling for a strike among professors, but was the only one to participate.

When authorities started looking for her, knowing others had ended up in prison, tortured or dead, she decided to flee to France, where she had previously completed her PhD.

There she was granted political refugee status and shortly after made the move to Canada.

“As a Syrian, World Refugee Day is very important to draw attention to the challenges refugees have. It’s important to know what’s happening,” says Ibrahim.

“We have to remember the people who couldn’t make it to countries like Canada, and for us who did to be grateful and to give back or contribute to the community,” says Yetbarek. “I want to use every second to give back to my country and go back to help people in Uganda and other newcomers.”

Leaving home

Most people don’t choose to be a refugee, but because of circumstances they have to leave their country,” says Yetbarek.

Born in Eritrea, East Africa, Yetbarek’s parents later decided to move to Uganda where they would live for six years in the hopes of coming to Canada as refugees.

“It was not a stable condition and we had to leave for safety and education purposes,” she says. “You don’t live for the moment, you’re always living for the future, you’re looking forward to moving, to coming to Canada.”

For Yetbarek, Uganda is like a second home to her but she is aware it’s not safe.

“It just terrifies you and you don’t feel safe, but living there for six years, I got used to it,” she says.

Because of all she has today, Yetbarek wants to go back to Uganda and work there someday. She says she is passionate about working in a refugee camp, especially with helping women and children.

Coming to Canada

It’s not easy to come to Canada with your family and have to adjust to a new system,” says Yetbarek. “I felt like if I fully integrate into Canadian society I would lose my identity.”

Hanadi Ibrahim will share her experience at World Refugee Day. | Photo courtesy of Hanadi Ibrahim

It’s not a straightforward thing, it has many layers to it says Yetbarek.

For Ibrahim, her sense of belonging began as she took her first steps in a Canadian airport.

“From the first step at the airport, you are treated as Canadian and it’s a multicultural country so you will never feel like you are different,” she says.

Both Yetbarek and Ibrahim had difficulties adjusting to their new home. Yetbarek struggled with accessing education and Ibrahim with employment.

Currently, Ibrahim works at Simon Fraser University through help from Scholars at Risk, an organization who understood her situation; and Yetbarek is a settlement worker for ISS of BC, the same organization that helped her when she first came to Canada.

“I want to represent other people to tell them that anything is possible,” says Yetbarek.

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