Khaleej Times

I’m a Syrian refugee, and proud of it

- mustafa alio

Iarrived in Canada from Syria 10 years ago as an internatio­nal student, and like every young dreamer, I was excited about my goals: perfect my English, land a job, move up quickly and find the love of my life — all in this land where I didn’t know a soul.

I kept my focus razor sharp on the future and didn’t dwell on the cushy life I had left behind in Syria. In Toronto, my life was very different. My first job was the night shift at Naz’s Falafel House. I cleaned washrooms and mopped floors. For months, I slept four hours a day, six days a week so that I could have enough time for school and for exploring the streets of the city.

Living in Toronto, I became well acquainted with the connotatio­ns of the words ‘immigrant’ (hard luck, resourcefu­l, ambitious) and ‘refugee’ (resourcesu­cking, burdensome, maybe dangerous). I wanted to succeed on equal footing with those who made this country great.

After attaining a couple of postgradua­te degrees in business, I landed a job as a financial advisor at a major bank. Life in Canada was starting to look good. I applied for permanent residency in 2010.

Then something happened, not in Canada, but back home: a civil uprising for freedom and dignity in Syria. Like thousands of young activists across Syria, I published posts online expressing my support for the revolution.

Almost immediatel­y, the threats came in. Many people from Latakia, my city, were directly related to the regime and became vehement regime supporters. The revolution was turning old friends into enemies. The threats escalated after I published a note on Facebook to build awareness about the oppression of the Assad regime.

In 2012, Immigratio­n Canada rejected my applicatio­n for permanent residency: I had come up two points short. Voicing my opinions about the revolution robbed me of the option to return home. But Canada didn’t want me, either.

I felt like an abandoned child, stuck between a new home that didn’t think I was good enough to stay and an old home that no longer welcomed my return.

Out of options, I applied for political asylum in Canada and became a refugee claimant. I wasn’t one of the desperate refugees who made a perilous trip across the sea; I was already here. I didn’t get a handshake from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport or other public displays of support, nor did I have a sponsor group to support my resettleme­nt. Instead, I faced court hearings, lawyer meetings and endless delays for reasons, some reasonable and some frustratin­gly unreasonab­le.

Most of all, I never wanted to tell the

In 2012, Immigratio­n Canada rejected my applicatio­n for permanent residency: I had come up two points short in its system.

people I met that I was a refugee. I didn’t want to say out loud that this country had not yet accepted me. I tried to justify hiding the truth about my status. I told myself if people know I’m a refugee, they may respond to me with sympathy. A refugee is a creature that needs help. Or they may respond to me with fear or hatred. A refugee is a security threat or an economic liability.

Instead, I began my lovesick devotion to proving myself worthy of being a Canadian. I wooed my new home, helping others, spearheadi­ng nonprofits. I co-founded organisati­ons like Refugee Career Jumpstart Project and the Syrian-Canadian Foundation. I helped hundreds of newcomers learn English, find homes, get jobs. As a community leader, I promoted Canada’s refugees programmes in meetings with government representa­tives from Sweden, Italy and the Middle East.

And for this I paid a dear price. I lived in the future and lost the beautiful moments that could have been. And still, I hid my own refugee status, even from the people I had helped. It saddened me how pathetic I had been in hiding my status.

It has been 10 years since I set foot in this country and four since I requested refuge. After years of separation from my family, I watched my mom and sisters arrive at Toronto Pearson Airport through private sponsorshi­p and receive their permanent residency papers, while I still have no idea what my future will hold.

But I should not have had to try so hard to prove my worth. Refugees should not have to give up so much in an attempt to be accepted. Society may proliferat­e the stigma of being a refugee, and allow all the ugly stereotype­s to flourish. But I’m at fault for fearing the label and am working hard to prove it wrong.

I have done what I can to love this country, but I am no longer willing to neglect the other parts of my life that also deserve my love. And with equal conviction, I am no longer willing to hide from the truth. My name is Mustafa Alio, I am a refugee and I am proud.

NYT Syndicate

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