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Refugee conference shines light on achievements, addresses hardships

Seventeen months after arriving with her family in Canada, 18-year-old Maya Al Maselmeh was one of two refugees honoured with the Refugee to a Londoner award during a conference at Goodwill Industries on Monday.

The one-day event was a joint-initiative by several social agencies across the city, marking World Refugee Day by celebrating accomplishments and having solution-based conversations about the challenges refugees face when arriving in Canada.

Event organizer and capacity building coordinator with the Cross Cultural Learner Centre, Jennifer Sandu, told AM980 that Maya and Asmaa El Joudy embody what it means to go from being a refugee to a Londoner.

READ MORE: Fanshawe College fulfills promise to support 10 Syrian refugee students.

“They’ve taken their pre-migration experiences, they’ve become very resilient. They’ve really had the capacity to move forward, [be] solution focused, and have been successful in their integration processes,” she said.
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It’s those kind of positive narratives the conference wants to shine a light on, Sandu said, because the integration process for the 2,000 refugees who have arrived in London over the past 18 months is anything but easy.

“There’s a lot of hardship. It’s forced displacement, so no one chooses to leave their home necessarily. But once they come here, I think what we want to say that they’re resilient, but that they also contribute to our community.”

READ MORE: Syrian family reflects on life in London, one year after arrival.

AM980 spoke with the Al Masalmeh family in early February, when they celebrated the one year anniversary of their arrival in London. At the time, Maya said she wanted to be a social worker.

Her goals haven’t changed.

“I want to be active in my community. I saw some people in the community; they help the people and they like their job, so I want to be like them.”

Yasmin Amin is a 21-year-old Syrian refugee who- like Maya – worked hard to learn English when she first arrived in Canada in 2015. Two months ago, she graduated from the English Learning Centre at Western University’s Faculty of Education, and will start her first year studying biology at Western in the fall.

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“You have to work. You have to work hard. A lot of people… they thought I don’t find a job, they thought I don’t speak English, I find my country is better than here.”

Amin said those things aren’t true. She’s learned English, she’s looking forward to starting University and once she’s graduated she wants to find a job in the health care industry.

“Canada is a great place and to be honest, for me, I find everything is really, really amazing.”

But discrimination and barriers to the integration process exist. While Sandu describes London as a welcoming community, workshops during the Life as a Refugee conference allowed for refugees and those who work alongside them, to talk about those hardships and how they can be addressed.

“Some of those conversations are hard” she said. “But I think today shows – from everyone that is here – that we’re able to have those conversations and we’re able to work together.”

More than 150 people, including refugees, volunteers, social agencies, and service providers attended the conference.

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