This annual event took place in Alumni Auditorium on Feb. 23. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers hosts sixth annual event at the U of O

Refugee Night is an evening of education and celebration hosted by the University of Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL). This annual event, which took place on Thursday, Feb. 23 at Alumni Auditorium, gave attendees an opportunity to learn more about the experiences of refugees and the organizations that support them through advocacy, assistance, and protection.

“We try to have a balance between education and entertainment,” said Amanda Bergmann, a second-year law student who also served as one of the organizers of the event.

“So tonight we’ll be having slam poets as well as firsthand accounts from people who have come through resettlement programs to Canada, to refugee musicians who are presenting their work, to professors who are coming and talking about their work in that sphere.”

Jean-Nicolas Beuze, a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, started the night off with a question to the audience: “who knows the difference between a migrant and refugee?” This was quickly followed by the answer: refugees are people fleeing for their lives, from political oppression, or conflict. Migrants, on the other hand, face no risk of persecution.

Beuze continued by saying refugees are also people outside their own country of origin, naming Syria as the main country currently producing refugees. Giving Lebanon as an example, where one in four people are refugees, Beuze said the number of Syrian refugees that have crossed into Lebanon would be the equivalent of all British Columbians moving to Ottawa.

Beuze applauded Canada for leading solidarity with refugees. Speaking about the recent instances of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the U.S., Beuze noted that while these individuals are not persecuted in the U.S., they are afraid of being sent back to their country of origin where they will face persecution.

“They are running for their lives.”

Refugee Night also highlighted the work that’s being done for LGBTQ+ refugees by the U of O’s Faculty of Law. This includes the work of professor Y.Y. Brandon Chen, who helps to provide racialized newcomers living with HIV/AIDS and sexual minorities with a safe, welcoming environment in Ottawa.

Nicholas Hersh of Capital Rainbow Refuge also spoke to the audience at length, sharing some of the barriers to launching a refugee claim. According to Hersh, sexual and gender minorities trying to avoid harm can face “barriers in articulating experiences related to sexuality and gender.”

Among the performers was first-year law student and lyricist Nasser Chahbar, who performed a spoken word poem.

“This event gives me a stage to share some of my poetry, especially about some of the social issues that are going on today with recent events,” said Chahbar. “The poetry I do is called ‘Poetic Justice’ and it takes a critical stance on current societal issues.”

The night concluded with the presentation of the Roberto Miranda award, presented by Bergmann and fellow CARL member Aditya Rao to Abdulrahman al-Masri for his work in human rights as a journalist, focusing on the war in Syria.

While Refugee Night was an evening meant for celebration, Bergmann reiterated the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done. 

“While this is an evening of entertainment and celebration for the positives that are occurring, it’s also an opportunity for people to reflect on the things that Canada or Ottawa need to continue to work on.”

To learn more about the U of O chapter of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, you can find them on Facebook.


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