Giving thanks for Canada: refugees on what this holiday means for them

Source: Toronto Star

By: Michael Robinson Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Oct 12 2015

For some refugees living in Toronto, Monday will mark their very first Canadian Thanksgiving. For others, the annual feast serves as a standing reminder of their journey to a place they now call home.

The Star spoke with several refugees to learn what they are thankful for this year.

  • Matthew House, a community refugee assistance organization

She may be far from Rwanda, but the East African country still weighs heavily on Fatimah Uwineza’s mind.

“When I came to Canada, I said, ‘This is my time to do what I wished for, to go back to school and become a biotechnologist,’” said Uwineza, who arrived in the country nine months ago. “Growing up in Africa, there is famine and hunger; people do not how to use additives to create more food.

“My knowledge in biotechnology will add something useful to fighting hunger. It will be my contribution to the place where I grew up.”

Erandes Dema travelled through 28 countries before finally settling in Canada. According to him, the country’s largest city has also has the biggest heart.

“Toronto loves me, and I love Toronto,” said Dema, who hails from Albania. “I am not afraid to ask someone on the street a question, even if my English doesn’t sound Canadian.”

Seven months post-landing, he already feels apart of the city, he said, despite an apparent immunity to Blue Jays fever.

“I just don’t understand the game … still getting used to baseball,” he said, adding his love for Toronto FC is more than enough for now.

Beatrice Balinda, left and Haben Tesfai take part in Thanksgiving dinner at the FCJ Refugee Centre.

CHRIS SO

Beatrice Balinda, left and Haben Tesfai take part in Thanksgiving dinner at the FCJ Refugee Centre.

  • FCJ Refugee Centre’s Thanksgiving

New Toronto arrivals expressed many reasons to be thankful during the FCJ Refugee Centre’s Thanksgiving dinner late last week.

Haben Tesfai said she was grateful for the Toronto-based organization that had helped her settle into her new home.

“As a newcomer, you are not aware of what access you have to services in Toronto,” the Eritrean refugee said. “The FCJ Centre helped me with shelter, the basic needs of life, and from there on, work, study permit applications and volunteering experiences.”

After just over a year in Toronto, Beatrice Balinda, originally from Uganda, was thankful for a simple yet overwhelming piece of personal news.

“I’m thankful for a successful refugee hearing,” she said, adding her claim for asylum was accepted in September.

Mohammed Barakat appreciates the freedom of expression he's found in Canada.

Todd Korol

Mohammed Barakat appreciates the freedom of expression he’s found in Canada.

  • Mohammed Barakat

Western-inspired music videos depicting “girls dancing without scarves” would eventually force Mohammed Barakat to flee from Gaza.

The Palestinian arrived in Toronto late last year.

Homemade versions of Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake that were uploaded to his YouTube channel attracted unwanted attention from authorities. “I think that the people back home either did not accept or were not used to Western culture,” he said. “It caused some trouble for me, so I had to leave the country.”

While he misses his wife and children, who are still in Gaza, Barakat is impressed with his new home’s values when it comes to freedom of speech.

“You can say anything, and it is this freedom that makes you feel normal,” he said.

Ahlam Jona, a refugee from Syria, finds the simple privilege of going out on the streets without fear something to be thankful for.

J.P. MOCZULSKI

Ahlam Jona, a refugee from Syria, finds the simple privilege of going out on the streets without fear something to be thankful for.

  • Ahlam Jona

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