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Embracing Humanity: Celebrating World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day is an annual observance held on June 20th to raise awareness about the struggles, resilience, and needs of refugees around the world. It is a day to honour the courage and strength of refugees, to promote empathy and understanding, and to advocate for their rights and well-being. At Covenant House Vancouver, we actively support refugees and foster care for any youth that needs help, regardless of the country they were born in, or their ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs. We believe that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their background or circumstances. 

Refugees are individuals who have been forced to flee their home countries due to persecution, conflict, or violence. They leave behind everything they know and love in search of safety and a chance for a better future. World Refugee Day serves as a reminder of the millions of people who are displaced, and the challenges they face on their journeys to find refuge. 

We explore the significance of this day and the reasons why it is crucial to support and celebrate refugees: 

  1. Raising Awareness and Empathy: World Refugee Day plays a vital role in raising awareness about the challenges faced by refugees. It provides an opportunity to shed light on the root causes of displacement, such as conflict, persecution, and human rights violations. By sharing stories and experiences, we can create empathy and understanding among individuals and communities, and can challenge misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding refugees. 
  1. Celebrating Resilience and Strength: Refugees demonstrate immense resilience, strength, and determination in the face of adversity. World Refugee Day is a moment to celebrate their courage and honour their contributions to their host communities. It serves as a reminder that refugees are not merely victims, but individuals with skills, talents, and aspirations, who enrich the societies they become a part of. 
  1. Advocating for Human Rights: On World Refugee Day, we advocate for the protection and fulfillment of the human rights of refugees. It is an occasion to highlight the importance of upholding principles of non-discrimination, access to education, healthcare, and the right to seek asylum. By amplifying the voices of refugees and demanding inclusive policies, we contribute to building a more just and compassionate society. At Covenant House, we have our social work team to thank for their tireless efforts in being a voice, advocate, and ally for youth that flee their home countries and seek refuge with us.  
  1. Fostering Integration and Social Cohesion: World Refugee Day offers an opportunity to promote the integration and social cohesion of refugees in host communities. It encourages dialogue, understanding, and cultural exchange, to break down barriers and promote inclusive societies. By fostering relationships and friendships across different backgrounds, we build bridges, learn from each other, and create a sense of belonging. 

The Choice Between Life and Death 

We encounter many youth at CHV who have fled dire and life-threatening situations in their home countries. No one chooses to leave their family, their friends, their culture, their country, and their entire life behind, unless the circumstances are absolutely critical. Two young people spent over three years planning their escape from their home country and found their way to Covenant House. They escaped a life of persecution because they were queer and this was not tolerated nor accepted where they lived. Being gay is against the law where these two youth are from and it brings immense shame on families. Coming out or having someone find out that you are queer results in a lifetime spent in jail, or death. They were told by their families that there was a grave waiting for their bodies if they didn’t conform and if they ever got caught. Needless to say, these two did not have their families’ blessing or support and knew they wouldn’t be safe if they stayed. 

They decided to come to Vancouver as they had heard it was liberal city, more open and tolerant to queer folks and with a vibrant LGBTQ community. Once their families found out they had fled, unbeknownst to them, their bank accounts had been frozen, and their hotel reservations cancelled, leaving them penniless, stranded, and homeless in a completely foreign country. Since then, both youth were able to find home and safety at Covenant House and are refugee claimants, working to get permanent residency here, as they continue to work on themselves, their education, and rebuilding new lives here; going home will never be an option for them — if they go, they will be executed. 

 “We as Canadians are in a privileged position and we have to remember that, when we are commenting on whether people should be here or not be here. We come from a place of living in a peaceful country where we have access to services. And a lot of these clients are purely living day to day and trying to survive. There’s no reason why somebody shouldn’t be able to live the same life as any one of us can, and that’s all they’re trying to do.” Louisa, Social Worker at Covenant House Vancouver 

Before you pass judgement or make assumptions on newcomers to this country and to our city, let’s remember that everyone has a story and hardship; we don’t know the circumstances that brought someone to flee their country and start a new life here. On this, World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to standing with refugees and working towards a brighter, more inclusive future for all.