Ukrainian Montrealers host evening for one-year anniversary of refugees’ arrival

The event was also hosted in celebration of Easter and those who helped the refugees come to Montreal.

On Good Friday, church Église Espoir in Longueuil, a place of community and faith, opened its doors in celebration of Ukrainian refugees and the families who aided them. 

Last year, efforts by Ukrainian Montrealers, the Shapovalov family, culminated in the safe arrival of eight families, comprised mostly of their relatives.

From posting flyers to taking to social media, the Shapovalovs’ spent their time raising awareness for the family members they hoped to see safe.

They also organized a GoFundMe, which their youngest daughter, Iana Shapovalova, helped set up. The funds currently accumulated stand at over $40,000. 

A year has passed and the Shapovalovs’ endeavors yielded more than they had expected. With help from both members of their church and beyond, including refugee processes by the Canadian government, all eight families made their way to Quebec by May of last year. 

“I still have strong feelings about the people who are still there,” said Iurii Semikin, refugee and relative of the Shapovalovs’. “Especially for the children, I think it hits them harder than [adults].”

Iurii Semikin on stage presenting pictures taken from his time in Ukraine to the attending crowd at chruch Église Espoir in Longueuil on April 7th 2023/ Photo courtesy of Antoine Rabeau Daudelin

The event was coordinated by the Shapovalov family and included testimonies from refugees, Semikin included. The testimonies detailed the trials of living in the east of Ukraine, days shortly after Russia’s invasion. 

The celebration included performances of Ukrainian songs, sung by younger members of the extended family, as well as other celebrations of Ukrainian heritage. This included a quiz on general knowledge of Ukraine where attendees could participate on the website Kahoot! independently. The evening’s festivities concluded with a musical performance by the attending family members. 

Semikin, a father of three, was one of the first to arrive in Montreal along with his family. He had the Shapovalovs’ to thank for helping with the process of moving.

From the start of the invasion, developments occurred hour by hour, according to Semikin. As borders closed, Semikin had to ensure the safety of his family. Living in Mariupol, his brothers and uncles were hit the hardest, losing houses overnight and forced to cook over a campfire. 

Before the process of emigrating to Montreal was complete, Semikin would drive around his impacted city with his brothers in a van lending aid to those in need. 

Following the ease of travel processes thanks to the Canadian government’s Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program, Semikin would finally meet with the Shapovalovs in the safety of Montreal.

“Speaking from the perspective of being in Quebec, despite my gratefulness I find that it has its faults to gain citizenship,” Semikin said.

Semikin is an electrical engineer by trade and currently works for the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM). Although paying rent for housing and already working a job in his field, he said adjusting to life in Montreal has been challenging. 

Within six months, immigrants must learn conversational French, and can only be considered permanent residents after living in Canada for two years. 

To obtain permanent residence, Semikin was required to fulfill certain criteria beforehand. This included being trained in certain professions according to the National Occupational Classification (NOC).

Despite his struggles, he was grateful for the families that aided in funding his safe arrival, and to a country that gave him the opportunity to live a normal life again. 

“It happens, it’s hard times now, but we must have faith and find strength in that,” Semikin said. 

“We felt a duty, in a sense, to get them to safety,” said Ilya Shapovalov, the eldest Shapovalov  son and software engineering student at McMaster University. “After we felt like these families, my family, have often been heard of by those who helped, but we felt it right to present them and to thank them publicly, because it’s very touching.” 

Shapovalov said days leading up to the invasion in February of last year were filled with anxiety. His family had already contacted their relatives in Mariupol, trying to convince them to consider leaving the area. 

As the first sirens of war rang across the country, Shapovalov said his family’s efforts to aid their relatives were put to action, prompting the aforementioned posts on social media and the GoFundMe page. 

“The government of Canada did a lot to help Ukraine, but you know, there are also people here who helped locally,” Shapovalov said. 

Aid for refugees came from more than simple payments. Some provided a roof over the heads of newly-arrived Ukrainians. 

“It was like a long journey for them, and they were just exhausted. They were just happy to see a bed,” said Robert Kulka, a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who, along with this wife, offered to provide temporary housing to a family of refugees. “Now they don’t have to worry about where they’re going to go next, you know?”

Kulka learned of the Shapovalovs’ efforts last year from matriarch Olena Shapovalova. She had set up a poster at her place of business, a butcher’s shop in Greenfield Park, Longueuil, hoping to gain attention from potential donors. 

According to Kulka, what would have been a lengthy process was shortened thanks to the temporary emergency residency offered by the government. 

The family Kulka took in needed time to process the memories of their previous home, with a journey riddled with overlays. 

“I think it’s hard for me to dissect between what is usually adjustment and trauma,” Kulka commented. “There’s the little one, say yesterday, if there was an airplane flying low over our house, she would duck.” 

Nonetheless, Kulka said his new residents are adjusting to average life in Montreal fairly decently. He and his wife helped register the children in school and assisted their parents in finding work. 

Kulka mentioned the family’s integration into regular Montreal life was something he thought they needed after their long journey. 

“If you hang in limbo and don’t do things, you don’t have anything to do, you start to despair,” Kulka said. “And their bond within the family? It’s very strong.” 

Hanna Pliushchakova, a mother of five children, planned to leave Ukraine after developments on the eastern front in 2014. 

Seeking asylum in Spain, her family’s application for citizenship was denied. Forced to return to Mariupol, conflict was always in the background, an aspect of their lives that would only worsen as Russia’s invasion fully commenced. 

“Every day, we could hear explosions because our home was so close to the edge of the city,” Pliushchakova said. “We decided to move somewhere again, because it was hard finding a place in Ukraine, so we decided to look for a home somewhere else.”

Olena Shpovalova, sister to Pliushchakova, alerted her of the possibility of going to Canada, which would be funded by the Shapovalovs. 

Pliushchakova said the government was fast to react to her family’s needs in receiving status as refugees, which helped in easing their built-up stress. 

However, Pliushchakova’s family was taken in by Montreal residents, similar to Kulka. She mentioned that she was thankful for the event hosted by the Shapovalovs, as she got the chance to meet many of the people who helped face-to-face, including donors, church members, and other people who took families in. 

The evening was capped off by traditional Ukrainian dishes served and prepared by various members of the church, including the Shapovalovs and their extended family.


Concordia scholar helps Ukrainian refugees heal through dance

As Ukraine enters the second year of war, Tetiana Lazuk uses dance-movement therapy to help refugees

One year after the beginning of the war, Ukrainian refugees in Montreal are working to heal from their difficult experiences and get settled in their new life. In the heart of the Mile End, the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada (UNF) offers wellness activities to help refugees find community through dance-movement therapy.

Tetiana Lazuk is a Ukrainian dance therapist and a scholar-in-residence at Concordia, and she leads dance-movement sessions at the UNF. During these classes (which are taught in Ukrainian), she helps refugees heal from their difficult experiences in the war through dance. 

“It’s not only this psychological support, wellness,” she said, “but it’s also helping to connect people who have a lot in common, and helping them to find their place and to establish here in Canada.”

While the war has faded from public attention in the past few months, it is still very real for Ukrainians in Montreal and throughout the world.

“On Feb. 24, 2022, many people thought that Ukraine would cave within a few days, if not a few weeks,” said Michael Shwec, president of the Quebec Provincial Council of Ukrainian Canadian Congress. “We’re coming up to a year, right now, where the Ukrainian people are very resolute in their defense of their territory, their culture, their language.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress represents 1.4 million Ukrainians around Canada, according to their website. While they have supported the Ukrainian community from their beginnings, work has increased considerably in the last year. 

“We need to help [displaced Ukrainians] land and be successful in Canada, for those who wish to stay,” said Shwec. “That means everything from housing to education, to employment, to have some sense of normalcy in their lives, and help them bridge that gap from Ukraine to here, as best as possible.”

This is exactly what Lazuck strives to do. She lived in Ukraine until 2009, when she moved to Canada to continue her studies in dance-movement therapy. She started working with Ukrainian refugees at the UNF in September.

Lazuk pointed out that her experience moving to Canada was very different from many refugees. She was prepared for her new life, for the changes it would bring, and for the challenges she would need to overcome. The refugees she works with did not get that preparation.

“These people were forced to leave their country, and many of them had excellent, great professions, perfect life conditions, and now they are forced to move to another country,” said Lazuk. “Many of them don’t speak English or French, so they need to learn, they need to adapt.”

The UNF’s aim is to provide refugees with the resources to do just that. The organization helps Ukrainians find a community and adjust to their new life in Canada. 

According to Lazuk, specialized psychotherapy is important to help them process their experiences in the war. On the flip side, her dance-movement sessions help Ukrainians connect with their community and handle the hardships of leaving their homeland.

“They meet all together, they discuss what problems they’re facing, and how to get through this,” she said.

“The dance-movement therapy sessions provide something through the body that allows them to not only be in their head, but moving, connecting, and sometimes forgetting what they have in their head.”

Since last year, the Canadian government has implemented many measures to help Ukrainians coming into the country. In March 2022, the government created a new emergency travel visa for Ukrainians. 

However, the war is not over, said Shwec. “As long as genocide continues in Ukraine, which it does, there’s never enough done. Enough will be when Russian forces are out of Ukraine and the genocide stops,” he said.

“Before our lives, livestreamed, is a genocide happening in what has been a very peaceful European country. The onus is on every single student to reflect on what is actually happening, and to make sure that you take a stand, and you defend the values that you believe in.”

The last time Lazuk visited her home land was in November 2021, to see her and her husband’s families — a few months before the beginning of the war. She looks forward to the next time she can visit her country, hopefully soon.

“We all hope that finally, peace comes to Ukraine, and we will be able to visit our family and help in rebuilding our country,” she said. 

“Here in Canada, life continues. We have plans, we continue working. Dancing.”


A Ukrainian family reunion in Montreal

The first of eight Ukrainian families funded and supported by Ukrainian Montrealers arrives in Canada, following Russia’s invasion of their home

For the past month, Iana Shapovalova and her family have been raising money to bring eight families, a total of 37 people, to Canada from Ukraine. The first of these families arrived in Montreal on Friday, March 25.

The Shapovalovs are originally from Ukraine and the eight families they are trying to rescue are mostly their relatives.

Iana Shapovalova arrived in Canada in 2013 at 11 years old and until recently was living a normal life; a 19-year-old in her third year of CEGEP, undertaking an internship in computer programming. But, following the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine on February 23, Shapovalova and her family began doing everything they could to bring their relatives to safety.

“I cannot cry or anything, I gotta like, move, I gotta do stuff. Like, this is my way of fighting, to give them a hope, to give them the ideas of ‘Okay. We’ll make sure that you are okay,’” said Shapovalova.

Shapovalova and her family started posting on social media, working tirelessly and doing everything they could to bring their relatives to safety. The GoFundMe page they started has raised $16,837 as of March 28.

Initially, all of the funds were to go to flights and visa applications, but the Canadian government has since made visa applications free for Ukrainian refugees. The first family’s visa application process cost $855 CAD. Initially, the idea to raise money was difficult for her family.

“My family’s the kind of family that, you know, we’re gonna figure it out on our own. Like, we don’t really want to be like those poor guys that need help, you know. But at this point, you got to put yourself down because, you know, it’s for someone else. It’s for families,” said Shapovalova.

A month of fundraising, numerous visa applications, phone calls, interviews and the direct help of a member of parliament (whose identity was not shared), culminated on a rainy Friday on March 25, when the first of eight families funded by the Shapovalovs arrived.

Iana and her brother Illia arrived at the airport at 4 p.m. to meet their family. After the family of seven (including two parents and their five children) landed, they spent another six hours in the airport completing COVID protocols and immigration processes. There was only one other family from Ukraine coming in alongside them.

“They’re pretty much the first ones going through this process,” said Shapovalova.

Iana and Illia patiently waited at the airport the entire time, while their parents waited in the cars to bring them to their arriving relatives to their new home.

Iana’s father took on the role of keeping in touch with family in Ukraine whenever possible.

“Every call was just so important,” said Shapovalova. “Every call, I would just run downstairs just to listen to the conversation, because you never know if you’re gonna hear them another time.”

Hanna Pliushchakova is Iana Shapovalovas aunt and the mother of the first family to arrive. She spoke with The Concordian in an interview which Iana translated. “We never expected to be leaving this way,” Pliushchakova said. “We left when we saw that the danger was unavoidable.

Pliushchakova said the trip was long and tiring but now that they are home and rested it is getting easier. The days leading up to their journey were naturally stressful as well.

“We were very worried not only because of this trip coming up, but also we couldn’t get in contact with some family members that are in Ukraine,” said Pliushchakova.

“There’s this part of worries and there are the anxious thoughts of ‘How is this going to go? What is this whole process going to be like, going somewhere?’ We have no idea.”

Coming from Mariupol, Ukraine the family had a normal life. Pliushchakova mostly stayed home with her children while her husband worked managing a chain of retail stores. Now they do not expect to ever be able to return to Ukraine.

“It’s a double feeling, one point of view is that everything there is destroyed and there is no way back because there’s nowhere to go,” said Pliushchakova.

“The second side of this was that we’re very, very glad that we can start from scratch here in Canada in a safe place.”

While many here in Canada are calling on their government to do more, Pliushchakova finds it difficult to ask for more support.

“It’s hard to tell because there’s this whole overwhelming feeling of getting this help already. The way that Canada is so open to Ukrainian refugees. It’s very, very touching for us and we’re very, very thankful.”

The Pliushchakov family will quarantine with a couple who has offered the basement of their house. Eventually they will rent their own apartment, begin learning French and English and put their five kids into school.

On the day of the first family’s arrival and seeing her family’s work come to fruition, Iana said she is speechless.

“I remember just going to bed and being like, if they can make it, to hear all of them. Like at least like three families. That would be like a miracle. I’m definitely just, you know, speechless. It’s really hard to put it in words, I’m really happy for them,” said Shapovalova.

“But at the end now, you know, just seeing this generosity from people here. It’s such a big contrast to what is happening there. Basically, they’re just sponsoring my family and it’s wonderful.”

Hanna Pliushchakova’s family is the first of eight that the Shapovalovs hope to bring to Canada, with the second family arriving on March 28. Supporters can donate and follow the families journies at their GoFundMe page.

Photo Courtesy of Iana Shapovalova


Protesters Gather to Support Egyptian Families Seeking Asylum

Protesters rally outside the Prime Minister’s constituency office to voice their displeasure regarding the refusal of five Egyptian families seeking asylum in Canada

Across Canada several groups protested Vancouver’s Canadian Border Service Agency’s (CBSA) refusal to grant five Muslim Egyptian families refugee status in Canada, due to allegations that they were associated with a political party connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 Dozens of people protested outside Justin Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal on Jan. 29, along with groups in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, to voice their opposition of the CBSA in Vancouver for placing these families in a precarious situation, especially if deported back to Egypt.

In 2017, CBSA officers in Vancouver terminated the process of an Egyptian seeking asylum. Though he filed a refugee claim stating he was a member of the Freedom and Justice Party during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, he was deemed inadmissible due to the political party’s association with the Muslim Brotherhood despite the group not being listed under Canada’s list of terrorist entities. The Muslim Brotherhood had a following of over 2 million people and were one of the biggest oppositions to the Egyptian government in 2011.

 Mohamed Kamel, one of the organizers of the event, said all CBSA offices but one accepted refugees with the same allegations. 

“How can CBSA [in] Vancouver decide to take actions on their own? This is something nobody can understand!” Kamel said.

“We have hundreds of people who have been accepted. Only the CBSA office in Vancouver decided to favour the claim of the Egyptian government.”  

 According to protesters, CBSA in Vancouver has not provided any proof to support the allegations towards the individuals, and rather, refused admissibility based on the alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood. Though two families have gone public, none of the five families knew each other before the refusal from the agency.

 Protesters and family members are now alleging CBSA Vancouver was acting in bias and islamophobic way, in a press release, stating that “the CBSA’s evidence is sourced from the current Government of Egypt, and right-wing institutions that have exhibited a patterned anti-Arab and Islamophobic bias.”

 “We now fear the actions of the CBSA could have the same impact and build on Islamophobia […] as a part of a government agency doing what they’ve done — they’re creating a new level of systemic discrimination,” Kamel said.

The protest coincided with the five-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting. They want the Minister of Public Safety to intervene in not only helping the refused families but to also recognize the racism and Islamophobia within the CBSA. 

“That’s why we’re here today, to call on the minister to take action. He just has to issue the CBSA to follow the Canadian government terrorism list,” said Kamel.


Photo by Gabriel Guindi


Poli Savvy: What does the U.S election mean for the Safe Third Country Agreement?

The results of the election could determine whether the Canadian government wins an appeal to keep the agreement in place

The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States is unconstitutional and will be scrapped at the end of January 2021.

In October 2020, the Federal Court of Appeal extended the agreement to the final appeal date, sometime in spring 2021.

A safe third country is a concept, also called the ‘first country of asylum’ concept,’ which comes from international cooperation where an asylum seeker (or their status) remains within the first country they sought protection in. Internationally, it’s used as a concept to limit refugee movements to a third country if they’ve already achieved protection elsewhere.

Canadian immigration and refugee rights organizations have called for an end to the agreement, stating the U.S. is no longer a safe third country. With a new president on the horizon – will the outcome of the agreement change?

What is the Safe Third Country Agreement? 

The agreement, which came to be in 2004, sets out that an individual may seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive in. A migrant who goes to the U.S. first and then subsequently tries to cross through Canada’s official borders will be sent back to the U.S., deemed a “safe” country, and vice versa. The agreement has some exceptions: those who have family members already living in Canada, for example.

There is one major loophole affecting Canada, however: those who cross illegally through unofficial or unmanned border crossings, like Roxham Road in Quebec, can be processed as asylum seekers.

Does a Joe Biden presidency change anything?

Joe Biden has made some promises: allowing refugees into the country at an average that is the same or equivalent to past presidencies, an end to the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that separated thousands of families at the border, and a pledge to reunite the 545 children whose — according to International Rescue Committee — parents can’t be found.

Canadian immigration and refugee rights groups, however, are wary of declaring Biden’s win a victory for refugees. Member of the National Assembly of Québec Solidaire, Andrés Fontecilla, is responsible for immigration, interculturalism and housing. He thinks Biden’s administration will have a lot to prove.

“A Joe Biden victory could be good news for immigrants and asylum seekers, but we have to keep an eye on his administration,” he warned.

After all, Obama’s administration — of which Joe Biden was vice-president of — deported millions of people from the United States.

“It was to the point where [Obama] was nicknamed by groups, and particularly groups from the Hispanic community, as deporter-in-chief,” said Fontecilla.

In 1969, Canada signed on to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which declares that no state should return a claimant back to their country if their life or freedom is at risk through no fault of their own.

If claimants coming to Canada are turned back to the U.S as a “safe” country but are subsequently detained in horrifying conditions, this could violate the convention.

“It’s a big problem, because a huge portion of groups that defend immigration rights don’t think that the American administration guarantees that they’ll respect the fundamental rights and protections set out by the [Status of Refugees] convention,” Fontecilla explained.

“So we really need to judge him based on his actions.”


Graphic by @sundaeghost


O Canada, home of the lucky ones

Oh, Canada. The land we often associate with tolerance, diversity and acceptance––especially when it comes to immigration and refugees. We’ve sold ourselves as a nation that loves rather than hates, while simultaneously comparing ourselves to the U.S. in order to highlight our exceptionalism. Sure, we’re better in the sense that our leader doesn’t expend his energy and time promoting hatred and ignorance. And yes, we haven’t been in the headlines because of a recent government shutdown over the construction of a wall. But we’re way over our heads if we really believe that we’re a standing example of what a great country should be. Take immigration and refugees for example. It seems like Canada has always been leading by a few points when it comes to accepting others. But is that really true?

Recently, Canada granted asylum to an 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman named Rahaf Mohammed, who used social media to highlight the abuse she allegedly suffered from her family. She fled her home and is now in Toronto, considering herself one of the “lucky ones” according to CTV News. We at The Concordian celebrate this success for Mohammed and are proud of Canada for accepting her. Yet, we can’t help but notice the various media headlines that are emphasizing how great Canada is, and how we’re the world-heroes of accepting refugees and immigrants.

To be frank, that’s just not true. Canadians are really divisive when it comes to the issue of immigration. A 2018 Angus Reid survey found that half of Canadians want to see the number of immigrants arriving to Canada decrease, according to CBC News. Not only are Canadian citizens tough on immigration issues, but the actual government isn’t that open-hearted either. Immigrants who choose Canada have to wait for months or years before Canada lets them in, and over the past 20 years, only about 5 million immigrants have entered Canada, according to The Atlantic.

And while we’re berating the United States for their desire to build a wall, we need to remember that Canada has border walls too. Not only are there physical borders, but there’s the big, bureaucratic one: the government. According to The Atlantic, in 2012, Canada rejected 18 per cent of the more than one million foreigners who applied for a visitor’s visa. By 2017, that number had risen to 26 per cent, and in the first three months of 2018, it’s risen to 30 per cent.

According to a World Economic Forum survey, Canada is one of the worst countries for its restrictiveness of visitor visa requirements––it is placed 120th out of 136 countries. And according to Maclean’s, Canada quietly deports “many Haitians to the most impoverished country in the Americas, where more than one in five residents suffer hunger and chronic malnutrition.” In fact, Canada seems to have a problem with its transparency when it comes to immigration and refugee processes. Specifically, it has been criticized in the past for their lack of transparency over immigration detention. According to the Toronto Star, Canada’s practices of detaining vulnerable groups, like children and those with mental health conditions, is problematic. A report by the Global Detention Project highlighted that 371 children were detained over the last two years. There have been many deaths of migrants in these detention facilities, and at least 16 people have died in immigration detention since 2000. Does this treatment sound familiar?

We can’t forget about Canada’s Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States either. Dating from 2004, the agreement claims that refugees who enter the U.S. or Canada first, must apply for refugee status in that country first. Essentially, a country can reject a refugee’s application if they’ve already been given protection by another country. We still have this agreement, even though it’s been made clear that the U.S. isn’t that safe of a country for those fleeing persecution.

A quick search on Google can prove to us that Canada isn’t the knight in shining armour we sometimes think it is. It isn’t the home of the free, and it certainly isn’t waiting with open arms for whoever chooses this country as their new home. It stings to see headlines celebrating Canada as a great nation, because it isn’t true. Our sense of exceptionalism is dangerous; it’s dangerous because it promotes false hope, false ideas and false expectations. We’re glad Rahaf Mohammed has a new home in Canada; we just can’t help but wonder about those who weren’t as lucky.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin


Student Life

Have we learned anything at all?

Concordia’s German program worked with The Holocaust Education and Genocide Prevention Foundation to host a workshop on moral responsibility in today’s politics

The Holocaust served as historical background in a presentation on moral responsibility in modern-day politics organized by Concordia’s German program on Oct. 27.

Matthias Pum, an Austrian who travels abroad to conduct Holocaust memorial services, spoke to a group of about 30 people on Thursday about the context and causes of the Holocaust, and how many Austrian and German citizens were convinced the actions of the National Socialist government were right and justified.

He used examples to show how Nazi propaganda was “emotionally-based” and presented “opinion or fiction as a matter of fact.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

He referenced the words of Hermann Goering, one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials, to illustrate how populations can be influenced into believing anything. “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country,” Pum said.

Pum pointed out how the unwillingness from the majority of countries in the world to accept Jewish refugees during the Nazi regime is comparable to the current treatment of Syrian refugees.

He referenced the Evian Conference of 1938, where representatives from 32 countries gathered to discuss helping Jewish refugees. In the end, only the Dominican Republic increased their refugee intake.  The economic depression of the 30s made countries hesitant to take in refugees.  According to the United States Memorial Museum’s website, “all this red tape existed against the backdrop of other hardships: competition with thousands of equally desperate people, slow mail that made communication with would-be sponsors difficult, financial hardships, and oppressive measures in Germany that made even the simplest task a chore.”

While Syrian refugees are accepted in greater numbers than the Jewish refugees were, Pum believes that wealthier countries need to do more to accommodate and assist the refugees fleeing the current civil war in the Middle East.

Pum blamed “right-wing populism” and parties such as the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ),​ Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland​ Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party for modern anti-refugee sentiment in Europe.

Photo by Alex Hutchins

While none of the parties he mentioned are currently in power in their respective countries, the FPÖ is presently polling seven points higher than the next most popular party, and the Alternative für Deutschland Party is gaining support and slowly becoming Germany’s third most popular political party.

Pum discussed an ad by the Alternative für Deutschland, which urged citizens to have the “courage to stand by Germany.” He likened this to Goering’s aforementioned words, saying the ad implied the same denunciation and vilification of “pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

Pum’s overall message was about the importance of learning from history in order avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. He believes modern “right-wing populism” is all too similar to the mentality that overtook Germany and Austria before and during World War II, a mentality that led to the Holocaust. He said he believes anyone is capable of making difference in the world by learning about the historical context of past events and applying that knowledge to modern day circumstances.


A Concordia student distributes education

A group of Montreal students travelled to Greece to help educate young refugees

A group of Montreal students, including one from Concordia, travelled to Greece over the summer with a goal to educate and help young adults from refugee camps in the Northern part of the country. Concordia student Joelle Assaf and three of her friends felt personally affected by the current refugee crisis. “We knew we wanted to do something to help out, but we were not sure exactly how to approach it,” said Assaf.

The group initially wanted to work in a Lebanese refugee camp, due to their personal attachment to the country, as three of them are Lebanese. However, this proved to be too dangerous due to constant war attacks occurring in Syria, she said. After doing their research, they chose work at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Greece, very close to the Serbian border.

In order to pay for the trip and supplies, the group started crowdfunding. They received approximately 3000 euros. “We didn’t know exactly what to do with this money, and so working with the NGO really helped us see what these camps had and what they needed,” said Assaf.

They visited several refugee camps, including Idomeni, the largest in Greece. They spent about a week distributing food, clothes and various other necessities.

They eventually ended up in a refugee camp called Echo. “We saw all of their very interesting projects going on, for example there’s a group of volunteers that were working in the [Echo] kitchen so all the refugees could eat,” Assaf said.

She also worked on building a shower for babies at the camp. “The hygiene was very bad, with eight plastic bathrooms for a thousand people,” Assaf said. “It’s not easy to shower, especially if you have a baby.”

The group also noticed there was a lack of focus on education, Assaf said. “Teenagers and adults were not doing anything. They started university but had to stop because of the war,” she said. This is what gave the team the idea to build a library close to Echo, at Vasilika refugee camp, home to 2000 Syrian, Iraqi and Kurdish people.

“By building one, it would help young people figure out what they want to do for their life,” Assaf said.

The library aims to provide a reading space, access to online courses, learning tools and tutoring, according to the library’s website.

The process of building the library was not easy, though. All of the projects in the refugee camps must be approved by the Greek government. To avoid such issues for now, volunteers decided to rent land very close to Echo and use it to run projects independent of the Greek government. Once they get approval from the government, they will build a library in the Echo camp.

Now that Assaf is in Montreal, she is looking for Arabic-English dictionaries to bring back to the library so that refugees coming to North America know enough of the language to communicate effectively.

The group is currently back in Montreal, organizing different fundraisers to raise money for more books. The group already has an active Facebook page and a website. They hope to start recruiting more volunteers as the project progresses.

For more information, visit their website.

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