The Walk with Refugees — hosted by the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), the Halifax Refugee Clinic and several other partners — took participants from the base of Citadel Hill to the Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Road, where many of the walkers stayed for a boisterous reception.
Jennifer Watts, CEO of ISANS, said the walk recognizes World Refugee Day, coming up on June 20, and demonstrates support for keeping Canada’s borders open.
“It’s just such a great way to recognize and celebrate the contributions that refugees bring, and the importance of Canada honouring its commitment to the United Nations (Universal Declaration) of Human Rights,” she said.
One Syrian refugee shared some of his personal experience with the crowd during the reception at the library.
Moustafa Alkrad fled his war-torn home country with his wife and children and passed through Jordan, Sudan and Egypt before arriving in Canada 10 months ago.
He said in an interview that the enormous turnout was moving; it made him feel welcome in his new country.
“I’m so proud to be here,” he said. “I feel the sympathy here, the encouragement, the support.”
Watts said Canada has long been a country that welcomes refugees and benefits from the skills and experience that they bring. She noted that at this particular time — when the U.S. is criminalizing immigrants at its southern border and detaining immigrant children apart from their parents — many people in Halifax and Canada are feeling emboldened to speak up for the rights of displaced people.
“People that believe in human rights and compassion … are standing right now and saying that that is still a really strong core value that we have, and that we are going to welcome (refugees) and we will continue to do that,” Watts said.
Alkrad said he’s been thinking about American immigration policies lately, too.
“I heard about the bad decisions Donald Trump made … I don’t know what this man is thinking,” he said.
In particular, Moustafa said he commiserated with families who are separated at borders because his sisters and parents are still in Syria, and his son is in Germany.
“We wish they were with us,” he said.
One walker, Elfinesh Zewde, said she’s been participating annually since the Walk with Refugees started in Halifax five years ago.
“Refugees are dear to my heart,” she said.
Zewde said she supports refugees in any way she can because she believes their lives matter. She arrived in Canada about 30 years ago from Kenya, herself a refugee. Later she started sponsoring others to come to Canada. Over the past 25 years she said she’s sponsored at least 20 people.
At the reception, Samba Nova, a local community group and band, played Brazilian beats on their drums and tambourines while the crowd stood up and danced along. Speakers expressed sympathy for the refugee experience, but the atmosphere was overwhelmingly one of celebration.
Alkrad wrapped up his speech with a message to all the refugees in the crowd.
“The refugees,” he said, “I will talk to you. You are brave. The newcomers, you are really brave to make the decision to come here to Canada, and you are lucky.”