The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Every refugee has a powerful story to tell. Focusing on individual stories and actively engaging with them can help us overcome our indifference, combat xenophobia and anti-immigrant policies.

Harnessing the power of individual stories helps us create compassionate, courageous and caring responses to a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Stories can change the world. To create a country where we can all live #StrongAndFree giving, Canadians need to find ways to give a voice to refugees and to actively witness their personal stories.

Conquering the Language of Dehumanization

The stories of the refugees themselves often get ignored in the general discussion and media coverage of the refugee crisis.

Yasser and his wife Bahryeh with their 3 children, Mohammed, Abdullah and Amal in a refugee camps. Witness their story.

The language used to describe our current refugee crisis often strips refugees of their humanity and fosters fearmongering, anti-immigrant rhetoric and even xenophobic public opinions.

Refugees are often described as a uniform mass, uncontrollable event or phenomenon, in language that dehumanizes. We hear of “floods,” “streams,” a “tidal wave” of refugees “pouring” through our borders, “swarms” of refugees “flocking” to our shores. These metaphors shape our actions and reinforce exclusionary, xenophobic mindsets and policies. This language is panic-inducing, portraying refugees as an “invasion” that we must defend against so we‘re not “overwhelmed” or “inundated.” Canadian citizens start to fear an “enemy at the gates,” and so the nation must close ranks and protect itself.

Focusing on the individual stories of refugees can help us combat this fearful rhetoric and restore the humanity of refugees, which many media representations strip away.

Through these stories we realize that we are not facing a flood against which we must defend ourselves but individual human beings with names, identities, dreams, hopes and fears, who have lost everything and, just like us, deserve the universal human right to live in peace and prosperity.

We are able to acknowledge and embrace our shared humanity. And in doing so move to break down the metaphors and language that portrays refugees as dangerous outsiders and create compassionate, courageous responses that can give hope and a future to those torn from homes by conflict and persecution.

Beyond Statistics and Combatting Indifference

Um Ali and her son Ramadan, Syrian refugees in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Learn more.

Coverage of the ongoing refugee crisis contains a lot of numbers. These statistics are staggering, referring to unprecedented numbers of refugees.

But research on reactions to mass trauma and mass suffering tells us we need to be careful about the dehumanizing effect of statistics: “sheer numbers of victims fail to spark emotion or feeling, and thus fail to motivate action. Numbers represent dry statistics — ‘human beings with the tears dried of.’ We seem unable to hold the emotions aroused by such overwhelming facts and numbers and quickly grow numb. Without affect, information lacks meaning and won’t be used in judgment and decision making.”

Witnessing the first-hand accounts of refugees allows us to get beyond the deluge of numbers, which leaves us numb and indifferent. These accounts create a feeling of connection with the people behind them.

When we hear or read a story, we somehow become part of the story. We place ourselves in the shoes, the mind, the heart, of the person in the story. The stories build a critical bridge of empathy and an experiential bridge between different cultures and peoples.

This connection breaks down exclusionary mindsets, expanding what it means to be Canadian and who gets the chance to live strong and free.

The world is experiencing the highest displacement of people on record, with twenty-four people forcibly displaced every minute due to conflict and persecution, all of them torn from their homes, leaving behind broken communities and families, desperately searching for safety.

Finding, focusing on and giving a voice to the individual stories of refugees can help us as Canadians break down xenophobia and make sure Canada stands in solidarity with refugees by being open, compassionate and inclusive.

Witness Refugee Stories here:

Refugee Action: Refugee Voices

UNHCR: Refugee Stories

New York Times: The Displaced

First Draft: From Syria to Europe: Refugee Journeys Through an Eyewitness Lens