Every day, people in countries ravaged by war and disaster leave their homes, and never go back. Many of these people walk for days or weeks in search of safety.
Walk Like a Refugee recreates that experience on a small scale -- a family walking out of their house in downtown Toronto, and 135 km from that house to Niagara Falls. We’re doing it to show solidarity with and to raise awareness about the world’s approximately 65 million displaced individuals, and 22 million refugees. We’re also doing it to reunite one family of Syrians displaced by the civil war that continues to devastate their home.
In September 2015, a picture of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach in Turkey galvanized the world into action. The sight of that little boy, who was displaced from his home, and who drowned as his family tried to get him to safety broke our hearts and moved us. Thousands of Canadians started private sponsorship groups. Supporters donated money, and household goods. We talked about refugees and we talked about how to help them.
Two and a half years later, the war in Syria continues, but interest in refugee causes has dropped dramatically. Canada welcomed 47,600 refugees in 2016. But that is just a drop in the bucket. Millions of people – men, women, and children have no homes, nowhere to go, and no one to help them. There are 6 million people internally displaced within Syria, and 5 million refugees outside the country. These numbers are huge, and therefore it might seem like nothing we do can make any difference. But it can. Every life you change or save matters to that person and their loved ones. We can reunite one family. We can make a difference.
Who we're walking for
G and M are a Syrian couple in the United Arab Emirates. They have had their work permits revoked and have been accumulating monthly fines for remaining in the country illegally now for more than a year. Some of that time has been spent in hiding. This is because if they are caught and deported, they will be sent back to Syria, where G faces possible detainment and torture because he has been a critic of the Al Assad regime, and of the revolution. G and M don’t have anywhere else to go.
G says, “I raised my voice when the revolution started against Assad regime, and raised it against the political opposition when they failed to unify and present a proper replacement of the regime, and of course against ISIS and alike being a dangerous and brutal evil.”
G’s father was arrested in 2012, taken to prison and tortured for a week. He died shortly after his release.
G says, “My father was buried without proper funeral and without his sons attending. We couldn’t attend because we were afraid to return to Syria, knowing for sure that we will face arrest and unbearable torture.”
G and M are also afraid because being Sunni born will make them a target of the Alawis and Shiite militias.
There is much to fear.
We are the Westside Refugee Response, a small group of concerned citizens. And we are literally their only hope for survival. In 2016 we brought M’s sister and her family to Canada, and later that year we walked from Toronto to Niagara to raise funds to file G and M’s application for immigration to Canada. We’re happy to say that we filed the application within two days of a cutoff date (yay us!), and that they have since gone through their interviews and security checks by the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi. If all goes well they will be arriving in Toronto soon (maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months) and we will need more money for their settlement.
G wants to work in the hospitality industry and M is a trained IT professional. Their English is excellent, and we have no doubt that they will find jobs in a reasonable amount of time, but Toronto is expensive and refugees often face barriers to job entry, such as a “Canadian experience” bias. We raised enough to file their application. Now we need to raise fund for their settlement in Canada. One step at a time.
We’re walking to help reunite this family. We’re walking to show solidarity. And we’re walking to help raise awareness that this crisis is far from over. And that is a GLOBAL one.
To reflect this, anything we raise that does not wind up being needed to resettle G and M will be donated to Matthew House, a shelter system for Asylum seekers arriving in Canada. To learn more about Matthew House please visit their website.
Meet the Team
Here's who's walking to Niagara Falls and why
David Jager is a pianist, crooner, U of T PhD candidate, writer and playwright, music teacher, and composer of rock musicals. I probably forgot some stuff. He is walking for refugees because our fellow humans are our responsibility. Also, it’ll be nice to get some fresh air.
Elizabeth Bromstein is a marketer who basically fell into a humanitarian hole and is now a private refugee sponsor, regular volunteer at Matthew House, and the president of a non profit fostering artist collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. Last time she walked from Toronto to Niagara Falls her toenail fell off.
Kismet Jager is in junior kindergarten. She is into princesses, reptiles, and butterflies. Her favourite things to do include listening to scary stories and “eating treats.” She’s not entirely clear on what a refugee is but she gets that some kids don’t have homes or toys.
Terry Dellaportas is the owner of J+A Cleaning Solutions, and everyone’s best friend and cheerleader. She started dragging her kids to volunteer for stuff when they were young enough to hate her for it, but now they’re glad she did. She’s the glue that holds the Westside Refugee Response and Walk Like a Refugee together. She’s also our getaway driver.
Abdul Muti “Amir” Fattal arrived in Canada in 2016 as a refugee sponsoree of the Westside Refugee Response. He owns Beroea Kitchen, a catering company. He’s walking to bring his family members to join him. He’ll only be walking for a couple of days because it would be mean to leave his wife Noor alone with a baby and a three-year old.
It takes a village, as they say. And guess what! YOU'RE it. Find out how you can help reunite this lovely family.