Tag Archives: Refugee

Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies, a former refugee, helping raise funds for UN relief

Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies says his message to young players is “just be themselves.”

“Every time they step on the field, play hard and know how to play with a smile on your face because when you play with a smile on your face, that’s when you play your best,” he told a Bayern Munich video news conference Tuesday. “Don’t worry about what’s going happen, just be in the moment, enjoy it.”

The 19-year-old from Edmonton said he welcomes being a role model to young kids and wants to put his platform to good use.

Davies joined AC Milan goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who like Davies came to Canada as a refugee, in a soccer video-game contest on the weekend to raise COVID-19 relief funds for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a UN agency with the mandate to protect and help refugees.

Asked about playing real games behind closed doors because of the global pandemic, Davies said “if it happens, it’s just going to be different.”

“The fans are part of us but it’s for the safety of everyone, I guess. So I don’t really mind it,” he added.

Bundesliga teams are back training, under physical distancing conditions, and the league hopes to restart in May.

Davies signed a new deal earlier this month that will keep the Canadian international with the German powerhouse through 2025.

WATCH | Davies’ goal sparks Canada upset over U.S.:

Teenage sensation Alphonso Davies scored in Canada’s 2-0 win over the United States in Toronto. 1:17

Asked about his progress at left back, Davies deflected the praise.

“On a personal standpoint I’m proud of my achievement but I think right now it’s all because of the team I’m with. The team is playing well. Everyone’s playing well. And I also have a world-class left back (David Alaba) next to me, helping me out as well.”

Alaba, an Austrian international, has shifted to central defender at Bayern.

A former winger, Davies says he is enjoying playing left back and doesn’t anticipate changing positions.

He said his German is “coming along” but will require a lot more lessons to perfect the language.

He said the player he looked up to the most is Lionel Messi, with Cristiano Ronaldo another top talent.

Quizzed on fellow Canadian Jonathan David, Davies said the high-scoring Gent forward “has a lot of qualities.”

David has been linked with a move to Germany from Belgium.

“I think if he moved over here there’d be no problem for him to play at this level,” Davies said.

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CBC | Sports News

Aid workers brace for impact of coronavirus in refugee camps

Ask Syrian aid worker Osama al-Hussein how he’s holding up and, like many of those engaged in humanitarian work, he deflects, telling you instead how others are faring.

Push him a little harder and he relents with a laugh.

“Actually I don’t know because I feel sometimes I am helpless and hopeless. But I try to do my best.”

Al-Hussein is one of the international aid workers bracing themselves for the arrival of the coronavirus among communities least equipped to deal with it, a hit they believe to be inevitable and with the potential to decimate refugee populations.

“The last displacement reached up to one million in three months,” said al-Hussein, who works for the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations in Syria, referring to the last big round of fighting in Idlib and the flight it prompted.

Many headed for already over-crowded internal displaced person camps along the Turkish border. Idlib province was the last rebel-held territory in Syria, a holding pen of human misery.


Many headed for already over-crowded internal displaced person camps along the Turkish border. Idlib province was the last rebel-held territory in Syria, a holding pen of human misery. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

“If the coronavirus spreads in camps [then] we’re talking about a catastrophe,” al-Hussein said in an interview with CBC via Skype. “Another humanitarian crisis in addition to the crisis that Syrians live in.”

At the time of our interview only one case had been reported in Syria, and it was not known where it is. But al-Hussein believes the virus is already present given the absence of testing, hidden among the respiratory illnesses medical workers already struggle to treat.

He said an “epidemic laboratory” had been set up in Idlib city, but that they were still awaiting proper test kits.

Some parts of northwestern Syria had started to receive thermal detection equipment as well as information posters about the dangers posed by the virus.

But raising the alarm is a challenge in a war-torn country balancing on the edge of a ceasefire few believe will last.

“The huge interest of the whole globe in one virus is for Syrians something very small in comparison with the crisis, with the bombardment, shelling, killing,” he said.

Community-based solutions

Much of the protective advice given to people living in cramped, crowded and squalid conditions is sometimes simply impossible to implement, a concern echoed throughout the aid community.

In an interview in London, Dr Louisa Baxter of Save the Children said her organization is currently “galvanized” around finding community-based solutions for those communities already grappling with complex crises, from the Horn of Africa to Cox’s Bazar, where the Rohingya live in what aid officials say is now the world’s largest refugee settlement.

“How do you tell someone in Cox’s Bazar or in a very remote part of Congo, ‘Wash your hands for 20 seconds,’ when there’s enough water perhaps to cook rice that night or when the soap [has run out] out four weeks ago?” asks Baxter.


Tents housing internally displaced people in Idlib are seen on Feb. 24. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

“Populations that have been really battered by weak health systems, by poor public health infrastructure, they are really the most at risk at the moment.”

The only possible way forward will be on community-based solutions, she said, “because so much of this is how people relate and interact with one another and look after each other.

“How to tell community health care workers when to bring people in, how to look after people in your own home when there might be only one room that you share.”

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are more than 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, nearly 26 million of them refugees.

Aid agencies worry that traditional donor nations, grappling with the pandemic at home, will forget about them.

“We can’t afford to close our eyes to the suffering around us because the solutions will be found globally and the actions have to be global,” said Baker.

But it’s a tall order when borders are being shut even tighter as a way of tackling the pandemic. Getting aid and vital protection equipment to doctors and nurses, even getting aid workers themselves to vulnerable communities, has become exponentially more difficult.

‘Very much reaching breaking point’

On Lesvos, in Greece, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was calling for the island’s notorious Moria camp to be evacuated of refugees even before the current crisis.

“The coronavirus now is just an extra add-on to an island that’s already very much reaching breaking point,” said Mie Therkelson, MSF’s nurse activity manager, in a FaceTime interview from Lesvos.

The Moria refugee camp on the island is already a petri dish of ailments easily passed from one to the other.


A woman covers her face as she walks past piles of garbage at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp, on the island of Lesvos, Greece, on March 9. (Elias Marcou/Reuters)

Set up at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015-16, when more than one million migrants swept through the Greek Islands en route to the rest of Europe, Moria was originally designed for from 2,000 to 3,000 people. Therkelson says its current population is 20,000.

“Normally you would say to people go home and rest in your house and self-isolate. Self quarantine.”

“But when 20,000 people are living in a very confined space where there’s almost no access to a toilet, to washing points, it’s impossible to self-quarantine.”

Health fears are also expected to raise already high tensions on the island between the refugees and a local population that has felt abandoned for years, not just by its own government in Athens, but by the European Union as a whole, because of the failure to deal with the refugee crisis.

“We called for an urgent evacuation of Moria because [these] people gathered in such a confined space is a huge health risk for everyone,” said Therkelson.

“It’s important that we at least evacuate the chronically ill, the children, the elderly,” she said.

But she’s not hopeful.


People cross a bridge at the Moria camp on March 11. (Elias Marcou/Reuters)

“In the media, coronavirus is the one [issue] that takes up the most time at the moment. Not what’s going on in the refugee crisis around the world.”

An added psychological burden for refugees with asylum claims already in process has been the inevitable delay that will result from the coronavirus crisis.

The UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration have announced that they will suspend resettlement departures for refugees, given the global travel restrictions now being enforced.

“This is a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential,” they said in a statement last week.

Ask Therkelsen if she is prepared for the coming storm and, like al-Hussein in Idlib, she deflects.

“My concern will never be staff. We’re going to be fine. The problem is that we’ve got 20,000 people out there in front of us that don’t have any possibility of self-quarantine.”

And she echoes Baker in London that now is not the time to look away from suffering beyond our own borders.

“I understand also that this is an international crisis and something that we haven’t seen before. But I really [want to] do all in my power to try to spread the message.”

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CBC | World News

Crossing checkpoints, visiting ‘Wall Street’ and refugee camps part of this Mideast adventure tour

“Please make sure you have your passports with you, and stay together when we cross,” retired American diplomat and aid agency executive Tom Getman instructed a group of 30 U.S. tourists.

Most were congregants from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and Getman was their group leader.

They were heading for the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, including overnight stays in Bethlehem and Jenin, and visits to Ramallah and Hebron and villages in between.

More than four million tourists visited Israel last year — a record number — but only a small proportion on religious pilgrims went on to the West Bank. Most didn’t stay the night, returning to Israeli hotels to sleep.

This American group was bucking the trend, with a “dual narrative” tour last week aimed at understanding the politics and approaching all the different perspectives with open minds and hearts.

It’s incredible. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of information to absorb, to be honest. So many perspectives– Susan Hill, tourist from Montana

“It’s incredible. It’s an almost overwhelming amount of information to absorb, to be honest. So many perspectives,” said Susan Hill, of Montana, who was on the tour with her sister, a member of St. Mark’s church. “People describe the same thing, but it’s as if they see a different part of it.” 

Cross between holiday and study tour

Getman said the dual narrative approach meant that in Jerusalem they first heard the Israeli narrative and history of Jewish connection to the land. The group visited Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and met a Holocaust survivor. Other speakers he said included Israeli left-wing activists, hardline right-wingers and Israelis who live in West Bank settlements.


There are now more such outfits, but the pioneer of dual-narrative tours in Israel and the Palestinian territories is MEJDI Tours, co-founded by Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah, pictured, and American Scott Cooper. (Wikicommons)

Dual narrative or “conflict tourism” is a cross between a holiday and a study tour.

There are now more such outfits, but the pioneer of dual-narrative tours in Israel and the Palestinian territories is MEJDI Tours, co-founded 10 years ago by Muslim Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah and Jewish American Scott Cooper.

“The two of us were working together in conflict resolution. I want everyone to travel with us — those who are pro-Israel and those who are pro-Palestine,”  Abu Sarah said.

Enjoying Palestinian-Israeli band and belly dancing

Abu Sarah hosted a dinner for the tour group at his family home in the West Bank town of al-Azariya, where, according to the Bible, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Abu Sarah’s mother prepared a traditional Palestinian meal, and he told them about the history of his family and their struggle to hold onto this home in the West Bank, while continuing to live on the Israeli side of Jerusalem.

After that, everyone pushed the tables out of the way and listened to a Palestinian-Israeli band — another rarity here — singing in Hebrew and Arabic. They even managed a belly dancing lesson.  


After dinner at Abu Sarah’s family home, everyone on the tour pushed the tables out of the way and listened to a joint Palestinian-Israeli band, Wast El Tarik, singing in Hebrew and Arabic. (Irris Makler/CBC)

As they left Abu Sarah’s home, Hill said that she found the tour complex, demanding — and enjoyable.

Members of the tour group began their West Bank stay in Bethlehem, less than 10 kilometres from Jerusalem. They entered the occupied town on foot, through an Israeli military checkpoint.

This was how most Palestinians entered and left — those who had Israeli permits — but it was something tourists almost never did.

Susan Backus, from Colorado, said that was the reason she chose this tour.

“To learn. To see. It’s different to see than it is to read. It goes to your heart, as well as your head,” Backus said.

Welcome to ‘Wall Street’

Once through the checkpoint, they walked along the barrier Israel built, separating Bethlehem and its population of some 30,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem.

In most areas of the West Bank, this barrier is a chain-link fence; here in Bethlehem, it’s a nine-metre concrete wall, with watchtowers and barbed wire on top.

Every MEJDI tour has two guides, one Palestinian and one Israeli.

As they walked along “Wall Street,” the Palestinian guide told the group the stories behind the murals, graffiti and protest art covering it. There was humour — “Make Hummus not Walls” — as well as pictures of Palestinian resistance figures like teenager Ahed Tamimi, imprisoned by Israel in 2018 after slapping a soldier during a protest.


Once through the checkpoint, the tourists walked along the ‘Wall Street’ barrier Israel built, separating Bethlehem and its population of some 30,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem. (Irris Makler/CBC)

Mixed feelings a positive sign

At that point, Israeli guide Yael Moav said she had something to add.

“I admire Ahed Tamimi, but I also admire someone else: the soldier who didn’t slap her back,” Moav said. “At this certain moment, both sides are victims — I mean the soldiers and the people. I have a son in the army, and I really see the soldiers, because they are kids, as victims as well.”


Yael Moav is one of the Israeli tour guides with Mejdi Tours, who accompanied the American tourists earlier this month.

As the group headed to Bethlehem’s star attraction, the Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, the St. Mark’s church members said they felt torn by all they were seeing and hearing.

“Such conflicting views. And so tragic for Israelis and Palestinians to have all that happen in the Holy Land,” said Mary Proctor, of Washington, D.C. “I was raised a Catholic. I’m no longer one, but to have all this happen in the centre of Christian sites is very strange.”

The group went on to visit refugee camps, as well as mosques, synagogues and churches. They stayed at an organic farm near Jenin where olive oil is pressed and exported around the world. They heard talks from academics and activists, as well as a joint group of Palestinian and Israeli bereaved parents, who reached out to each other for support after losing children in the conflict.

We wanted people to know that Muslims, Jews and Christians are doing things together to build civil society, when it appears hopeless to so many.– Tom Getman, retired American diplomat and tour group leader

“We wanted people to know that Muslims, Jews and Christians are doing things together to build civil society, when it appears hopeless to so many,” said Getman.

But mostly they saw the situation on the ground with their own eyes.

For MEJDI’s Abu Sarah, their mixed feelings were a positive sign; in fact, one of his aims. “And for them not to leave saying they love Jews and hate Palestinians, or love Palestinians and hate Jews, but they love everyone who’s here.”

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CBC | World News

How a Syrian refugee in Lebanon found his dream job in Niagara Falls

In a modest rental flat in the Lebanese city of Zahlé, overlooking a fine field of tomato plants and beyond that the Bekaa Valley, Syrian refugee Anas Nabulsi and his wife, Marah, are fussing over their newborn baby. 

The days here have already turned hot and humid, but six-week-old Mahmoud is still cozied up in a sleeping bag with the words “Happy Winter” embroidered across it.

Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe it’s a little subliminal messaging for the baby. Because if all goes according to plan, Mahmoud and his parents will be moving to Canada, not as refugees but as permanent residents, by end of the summer. 

“To be honest, even before our [country’s] crisis, it’s my dream to move to Canada,” said Nabulsi, who fled Syria with his parents and siblings in 2013, in part, he said, because he could no longer avoid being conscripted into the army. 

“Nobody thought [moving to Canada] would happen like this. But originally it’s my dream.”

The dream turning into reality comes courtesy of a new initiative from a non-governmental organization called Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) that matches skilled refugees with employers and firms willing to hire and sponsor workers from abroad. 


If all goes according to plan, Mahmoud Nabulsi will be living in Canada with his parents by the time the snow falls later this year. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“We call it the talent catalogue,” Noura Ismail, TBB’s Lebanon co-ordinator, said at the aid agency’s Beirut office.

“We have over 200 professions represented: thousands of doctors, engineers, nurses, IT professionals. It’s incredibly impressive.” 

Another way out of camps

The NGO was founded four years ago in the United States by two lawyers interested in the role labour mobility could play in offering individuals another way out of the camps so many refugees seem destined to remain in after fleeing conflict and persecution.

They began, said Ismail, by spreading the word among the refugee populations in Lebanon and Jordan, eventually creating a database of more than 10,000 resumes from skilled individuals.   

“Really, before we had done that, there had been very little discussion and research on the professional backgrounds of refugees,” said Ismail. 

“There was kind of this assumption that they’re uneducated and have zero use to society, which we proved through that talent catalogue is just absolutely incorrect.”


Noura Ismail, Lebanon co-ordinator for Talent Beyond Boundaries, said the initiative’s ‘talent catalogue’ has more than 200 professions represented within it. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

TBB is partnered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and has begun working with governments in countries such as Canada and Australia, both of which have launched formal pilot projects. 

Canada’s is co-sponsored by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and was launched on April 1, 2018.

“Canada is known for its leadership in developing innovative programs that support refugees seeking protection and a chance to rebuild their lives,” Mathieu Genest, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said via email.

The Economic Mobility Pathway Project is facilitated in part by a $ 114,000 grant from IRCC and is looking at whether skilled refugees in the Middle East and Kenya can immigrate to Canada via existing economic programs.

Some concern

There has been some concern in aid circles that the overall idea could promote a kind of hierarchy within the refugee community wherein more educated classes could be offered more opportunities. 

But according to the UNHCR’s most recent figures, less than seven per cent of refugees in need of resettlement were actually placed last year. 

Advocates say that overall immigration tends to come from the economic stream rather than through any other route such as seeking asylum or through special circumstances, and that TBB is about finding a way for refugees to compete in it. 

“I think any program of solidarity is compatable with refugees’ aspirations and needs,” said Mireille Girard, the representative for the UNHCR in Lebanon.

Nabulsi is only the second candidate to be placed in Canada by the TBB project.

As a tool and die maker, he has a very particular skill set. His resume was spotted in the talent database by the president of a tool manufacturing company in Niagara Falls, Ont., who flew to Lebanon to interview Nabulsi. 


Mireille Girard, the representative for the UNHCR in Lebanon, says ‘any program of solidarity is compatable with refugees’ aspirations and needs.’ (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“I was very happy. He brought some blueprints and asked me specialist questions.” 

Nabulsi was offered — and accepted — a job as a tool and die maker.

Nabulsi left his village on the outskirts of Damascus a month shy of graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. 

He and Marah married in 2017 and have been living with his parents in the Zahlé flat. Not affected by the threat of conscription, Marah returned to Damascus to give birth so her son would have official papers, including a birth certificate, identification card and registration on her passport, which are difficult to obtain in Lebanon.

‘Worse and worse every day’

Life has become increasingly difficult for Syrians living in Lebanon, creaking under the strain of about one million registered refugees, who have been arriving there since the start of the Syrian uprising in  2011. They stopped being registered in 2015. 

“It becomes worse and worse every day, actually,” said Nabulsi, who has found part-time work with Lebanese employers still willing to hire Syrians. 


Marah Nabulsi returned to Damascus to give birth to Mahmoud six weeks ago so he would have official papers that are difficult to obtain in Lebanon. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

It felt safe when they first arrived, he said, “but then everything changed.”  

Hostility toward refugees has been on the rise in Lebanon, where some accuse them of stealing jobs, driving wages down and rents up.

The country’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, has been accused of stirring up xenophobia. 

He’s suggested Syrian refugees are staying in Lebanon for economic gain and his supporters have protested against Lebanese businesses for hiring Syrians. 

The shift in mood has perhaps made it easier for Nabulsi’s parents as the young couple prepare to move so far away, studying English and reading about Canada online whenever they get a spare moment. 


Mahmoud Nabulsi thinks his son will have a bright future in Canada. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“When he goes there, the future is bright,” said his father, Mahmoud Nabulsi. “He knows what is going to happen. There is no kind of surprises. Here in the Middle East, you don’t know anything.” 

“I love that he will take his chance,” said his mother, Huda Nabulsi, who describes a little boy growing up who could draw like Picasso and fix anything broken in the house. “He deserves it.” 

For TBB, the hope is that Canadian businesses might take to the idea in the same way Canadians offering to sponsor Syrians at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe did back in 2015 and 2016. 

For Mahmoud’s parents, the hope is simply for a peaceful life and a better future. 


The Nabulsi family in the kitchen of their modest apartment in Zahlé. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

‘I like cold weather’

The baby has just had his medical test, paving the way for his visa to be issued, the final step in the family’s move to Canada.

“In the beginning, it’s going to be difficult until we get used to the country, meet some people, have some friends,” said Marah, who also studied engineering and has a degree she’d like to make use of one day.


The Nabulsi family is hoping for a peaceful life and a better future in Canada. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

“I don’t feel nervous,” she said with a smile. “I like cold weather.”

“Some people think we [are]  going go to a paradise,” said Nabulsi. “It’s not a paradise. I have to start from zero.

“But the most important thing is the job. And it’s a good job. I want to contribute something to Canada. I want to make something, to be thankful.”

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Whistleblower Edward Snowden calls on Canada to help the refugee families who helped him

U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden is urging the Canadian government to accept all seven of the people who sheltered him in Hong Kong while he was fleeing prosecution as refugees.

In a rare interview, he tells The National’s Adrienne Arsenault that every day the individuals remain in Hong Kong, “they are in immediate danger.” 

Two members of the group, Vanessa Rodel and her daughter seven-year-old Keana, arrived in Canada last week. The whole story reads a bit like a movie script. And why not? 

The reason Canadians know their story at all is because filmmaker Oliver Stone made a movie about Snowden, and along the way — at some point during the scripting process it’s believed — information got out  that revealed how Rodel and Keana’s lives — along with the rest of the group’s — were intertwined with Snowden’s.

Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA documents in 2013. The United States declared him a traitor and Snowden fled prosecution. (The Guardian/Associated Press)

Back in 2013, Snowden leaked classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, where he had been working as a contractor. The documents revealed a massive government surveillance operation, and the United States declared him a traitor. Snowden fled to avoid prosecution, at one point winding up in Hong Kong. 

That’s where he met Rodel. 

She and two other families — refugees themselves having fled the Philippines and Sri Lanka — sheltered Snowden in their tiny homes in Hong Kong while he was on the run.

The seven people who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong. Sri Lankan refugee Supun Thilina Kellapatha, 3rd from the left, his partner Nadeeka, left, with their baby boy Dinath and daughter Sethumdi, Sri Lankan refugee Ajith Puspa, 3rd from the right, Rodel, right, and her daughter Keana. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Now, from his apartment in Russia, where Edward Snowden lives in exile, he is pleading with Canada to let in the other families — the three adults and two children who were left behind.  

“These people helped me in 2013,” Snowden told Arsenault by video chat. “And yet here we are 2019.”

Snowden says Canada is best positioned to welcome all seven refugees. (Jean-François Bisson/CBC News)

Snowden found himself living with the families in Hong Kong six years ago because of a Canadian lawyer, Robert Tibbo. He was Snowden’s lawyer and he was also working for the families, trying to keep them from being deported and trying to get them safely out of Hong Kong.

“I would say this one guy… is perhaps the reason [the families] haven’t been sent back yet,” Snowden said.

He believes it took the leak during the moviemaking to get the world to pay attention to the families’ plight. He says Rodel and her daughter would not be in Canada were it not “for the profile they got from this film” and “the insanity of the response of the Hong Kong government to having their mistreatment of these refugee families … suddenly thrust into the global spotlight.”

Snowden describes what the refugee families face daily living in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault about the danger the people who helped hide him in Hong Kong face now that what they did is public. 1:29

Rodel and Keana, another refugee couple and their two children, and a third man were all living as refugees in Hong Kong in 2013. They were poor, prohibited from working by the Hong Kong government, living in cramped spaces.

“The bathroom sink was the kitchen sink,” said Snowden. Over a period of about three weeks, he crowded into each of the families’ three homes with them. It wasn’t long before he moved on to Russia  —  but it was long enough to have a negative impact on Rodel and the others. 

Their lives were already difficult, Snowden said. And once the Hong Kong government got wind through the movie leak that the families had sheltered Snowden, their situation got worse. Snowden says the government basically retaliated, removing their refugee stipends and access to food and housing.

Arsenault asks Snowden what it was like to realize that the very people who had helped him were being made to pay for it.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault that the people who helped him are being made to suffer again and again. 1:41

That’s when Snowden says the effort to get the families refugee status in another country began. He believes Canada is best positioned to help them.

“These children are stateless and they will never live a free life unless they are welcomed into and protected by a state. And the only one who is in a position to do so right now, who has the legal framework to do so right now is Canada.”

The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth.– Edward Snowden

The paperwork requesting asylum from Canada was filed in early 2017 and Snowden says their situation is dire. He says the families will be deported to Sri Lanka where they where they claim to face torture and death threats. He is enormously grateful that Rodel and Keana are here, but says there is clearly something preventing the other five from being immediately brought to Canada, too.

“If this process is independent, If it’s truly independent, they already would have been admitted. I believe and everyone else believes the only reason this process for admission has taken so long is simply because the Canadian government is bending over backwards not to create an appearance that might irritate the United States government.”

That’s because the United States still considers Snowden a traitor and he still faces charges in the U.S. related to his exposure of what was considered state secrets.

Snowden says that shouldn’t matter.

“The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth. And if that’s something that Canada can’t stand behind, that’s something we need to know publicly rather than them sort of doing it privately.”

He added, “Admitting these families is something Canada can be proud of. And seeing these families have a happy ending, I think in the fullness of history is something that the United States will be very much glad happened.”

Watch Adrienne’s full interview from The National: 

Former CIA employee and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has a message for Canada. He sat down for an exclusive interview with The National’s Adrienne Arsenault. 7:45

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Canada gives $50M to UN Palestinian refugee agency U.S. says is 'flawed'

Canada is contributing $ 50 million to the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency — after the United States decided to stop funding what it called an "irredeemably flawed" organization.

The new Canadian funds announced on Friday will be allocated over two years to assist the health and education efforts of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.

The Trump administration decided in August to withdraw $ 300 million US in support, ending the United States' status as the largest donor for an organization that had been trying to help more than five million Palestinian refugees.

Israel has accused the agency of being biased, fuelling its conflict with the Palestinians and promoting hatred against the Jewish state.

Canada's foreign ministry says the new funds will help bring stability to the region by helping Palestinians cope with poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.

But it also says the money will assist UNRWA with "its ongoing efforts to improve neutrality within the agency and its operations."

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'A natural talent': Davies goes from refugee camp to soccer pitch

Soccer phenom Alphonso Davies and his former Edmonton Strikers coach, Nick Huoseh, often talk or text after his matches with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Huoseh said they usually go something like this:

"Good job," texts Huoseh.

"Thank you, but I'm not done yet," replies the 17-year old midfielder.

Huoseh, who now represents Davies as his agent, said the Edmonton-raised soccer star is driven to succeed.

"He's set his goal," said Huoseh. "He wants to go to the top."

Davies, who is set to play in the MLS all-star game in Atlanta this week, took another step closer toward his goal last week when the Whitecaps finalized his transfer to German soccer giant Bayern Munich for a record-breaking US$ 22 million transfer deal. He'll start playing for the international team in 2019.

It was hard, it was dangerous. It was hard to live.– Debeah Davies

His journey so far has been one of resilience, humility and determination — with many helping hands along the way.

Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana on Nov. 2, 2000, after his parents fled the civil war in Liberia.

"It was hard, it was dangerous. It was hard to live there because the only way you survive sometimes is you have to carry guns too," said his father, Debeah Davies, in a video made by the Whitecaps. "We didn't have any interest in shooting guns. So, we decided to just escape from there."

"Very scary," added his mom, Victoria Davies. "You had to cross over bodies to go and find food. So the best way is to just get out."

She said the refugee camp was safe, but there were no schools.

'I thank God for that'

The Davies family was able to immigrate to Canada when Alphonso was five years old, eventually settling in Edmonton.

"He started school," said his mom. "And now his life is improving. I thank God for that."

Her focus has been to make sure her son gets his education — he told reporters in Vancouver last week that he's hoping to finish high school before he heads overseas.

Davies, who became a Canadian citizen in June 2017, often thanks his parents for his success.

"They carried the family to a safe environment in Canada, a safe country," he said in the Whitecaps video. "I am really happy they did that for us. Being Canadian is a great honour."

Davies said Edmonton has been a major part of his life.

"That's where I started my soccer, that's where I played, that's where I went to school, that's where my family and my friends live," he said.

'He's such a natural talent'

His Grade 6 teacher, Melissa Guzzo, said she met Davies at Mother Theresa Catholic school.

"Our little Alphonso," she said. "He's just one of those kids who had a permasmile on his face, always dancing in the hallways."

The school, now called St. Theresa of Calcutta, joined Free Footie — a free after-school soccer league for inner-city kids in Grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 who can't afford registration fees and equipment or get transportation to games.

Guzzo, who coached the program, said Davies played with their after-school program.

"He's such a natural talent," she said. "Anything he touched — track, basketball, any sport — he was the kid."

Guzzo called Tim Adams, who founded Free Footie, before the year-end tournament and suggested he take a few minutes out of his day to watch Davies play.

Adams said he always knew Davies had something special. 

"He had a gift," Adams said. 

Adams had also called soccer coach Marco Bossio to check out the tournament.

"Marco was there and said, 'Yes, we need this kid to come to our program,"' recalled Adams.

Bossio, who runs the St. Nicholas Soccer Academy in Edmonton, said he recognized Davies' natural talent immediately.

"There was something special about this boy," he said. "He was fast, he had unbelievable control of the ball. I knew that was something special at that age."

After the game, Bossio went up to the 11-year old and asked him about his plans for junior high.

There's no doubt that there's a natural gift with Alphonso.–  Marco Bossio.

"He said he was coming to the soccer academy at St. Nick's," said Bossio. "We were delighted and coached him for three years."

Davies was also playing at the club level with the Edmonton Strikers.

During those years, both Huoseh and Bossio watched Davies develop as an amazing athlete.

"There's no doubt that there's a natural gift with Alphonso," said Bossio. "What separates him from the rest is his willingness to work incredibly hard."

They helped him navigate the next step with the Whitecaps.

Davies joined the team's residency program in 2015 and since then has steadily worked his way up to the starting line up.

A lightning-quick player with astonishing ball control, Davies has five goals and 10 assists for Vancouver this season.

His former coaches agree Davies is not only a great story for Canadian soccer, but for Alberta and Edmonton.

'Soccer is alive and well'

"It's great to showcase that soccer is alive and well in our city and in our country," said Bossio. "A lot of times, people might think we're only a hockey country or a hockey city, but there's a lot of things that are happening."

Davies' success has also inspired the founder of Free Footie to take a year off with the hopes of developing the program in other Canadian cities.

"My hope is that this has a trickle-down effect," said Adams. "People ask me if I am surprised that that kind of talent exists in Canada and I say no. I've seen lots of kids like Alphonso in terms of athleticism, but they haven't had that same mental edge and they haven't had that same community around them.

"There is no doubt in my mind that there is an Alphonso Davies in every Canadian city and we can see that by the 2026 World Cup if we were aggressive in doing the right thing."

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Eye surgery attempts to reverse years of blindness for Syrian refugee

Cutting an incision into a human eyeball isn't for the faint of heart.

But it's part of the daily routine in the eye surgery ward at Vancouver's Mount Saint Joseph Hospital.

On a recent weekday, waiting for a sedative to kick in, Anas Schichmouse lay flat on a hospital bed just outside the operating room.

One eye was covered with a white patch and bandages. The centre of the other pupil was completely clouded. 

Speaking through a translator, the blind man said he feared he might never see again.

He had surgery for his genetic condition in 2006, but it didn't work. His eyesight grew worse and he ended up going completely blind.

Doctors determined Schichmouse required treatment as soon as possible. (​Brian Smith – St. Paul's Hospital Foundation​)

A change in fortune

Civil war tore Syria — and his family — apart.

His three sisters ended up in Vancouver and Schichmouse was alone in a refugee camp in Northern Iraq.

In May, his luck changed. An American benefactor fed up with U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policies put up tens of thousands of dollars to help bring Schichmouse to Canada.

He soon was in the office of eye surgeon Dr. Simon Holland, who decided he needed an operation as soon as possible.

A stranger's kindness brought Anas Schichmouse to Canada. Now, it might save his eyesight. 1:03

It was time to see if Schichmouse's vision could be saved.

Schichmouse was wheeled into the operating room, sedated but conscious.

A special tool cut into the cornea — the outer layer that should be clear, but in this case was opaque.

It was removed and replaced with a donated cornea from a cadaver.

Then doctors used a tiny needle to make delicate stitches around the edge.

A family reunited

In the waiting room, his sister Camile Siho hoped for the best.

"I want to thank everyone who worked to help my brother and I appreciate everyone."

Another sister, Serin, arrived in Canada earlier, also blind from the same genetic condition.

But doctors say it's too late to restore her vision.

"I'm a bit nervous about the surgery but at the same time [I'm] optimistic because we are in this country, great country, Canada," Camile translates for her.

Heyfa Schichmouse, Camile Siho, and Serin Schichmouse wait for word on their brother's eye surgery. (​Brian Smith – St. Paul's Hospital Foundation​)

After the operation, Holland said he, too, is optimistic.

"It went well, we thought we'd have to do more," he said, explaining they didn't have to replace the lens as well as the cornea.

He said the case is a reminder of the work he did on the Syria-Iraq border in 2009 as part of an eyesight charity called Orbis.

"Anas's case is very special for me, I have a great sympathy for the folks in Syria, for the terrible problems they have had and it's nice to reconnect and special to help a Syrian patient."

But now it's a waiting game to see if the surgery worked.

Moment of truth

The next day, Schichmouse was led into an exam room, his eye heavily bandaged.

The bandages were removed and Holland encouraged him to open his eye.

"See any movement there?" Holland asked, waving two fingers in front of him.

"Two," comes the answer, a beautiful sound to everyone in the room.

"Okay, all right, he does seem to be able to see something," Holland said before moving on to other tests.

"He's at the level where most patients see who've had a corneal transplant, so that's very expected, it's a good sign because he probably doesn't have a significant problem at the back of the eye. He should be fine."

Schichmouse feared he might never see again. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

It was an emotional moment for everyone in the room, particularly Schichmouse.

"I was very happy, almost about to cry," he said through a translator.

Now his eye has to heal, but his vision should grow sharper in the days ahead.

There are still obstacles ahead. He needs to work on his English, and hopes to resume the studies in law he began in Syria, but was forced to abandon.

But after years of darkness on so many levels; a fractured family, civil war, blindness, he now has a future framed by hope, and light.

Read more from CBC British Columbia

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'We lost everything': After 7 years of war, Syrian refugee families can only dream of returning home

As the devastating war in Syria enters its eighth year, countless families have been separated — including two cousins who grew up together in Damascus and now live on opposite sides of the globe.

Amani Sulaiman and her family are among the 50,930 Syrian refugees who have resettled in Canada. Meanwhile, her cousin Omar Almouisati and his family are currently stuck in Jordan.

Almouisati, his wife and three daughters fled Syria in late 2012, as bombs rained down on the neighbourhood they were living in near Damascus. A few months later, Sulaiman decided to follow her cousin. The two families lived in Jordan, but only the  Sulaimans were granted refugee protection in Canada.

Both families have watched as Russian and Iranian forces have helped turn the tide in favour of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and are left wondering how Assad’s resilience will not only affect their chances for reunification, but what it holds for the future of the country.

Neither Sulaiman nor Almouisati hold out much hope that the war will end soon. Moreover, they worry there will be nothing to return home to when that happens.

“There were no benefits at all to this war,” said Sulaiman. “Our youth — they were like flowers — and now they’re gone. We lost everything.”

Amani Sulaiman and her sons

Amani Sulaiman, left, and her family are among the 50,930 Syrian refugees who have resettled in Canada. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

A country on the run

While the United Nations has stopped counting the casualties, it’s thought that nearly half a million Syrians have been killed in the civil war.

The conflict began with peaceful street protests on March 15, 2011, in support of young Syrian boys who were detained and tortured after scrawling graffiti in support of the Arab Spring uprisings spreading through Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. 

Assad ordered a crackdown, and the violence eventually grew into an opposition effort to try to force him out.

The Sulaimans and Almouisatis are among the 5.6 million Syrians who have fled their country since the first protests in 2011. Most of those refugees have settled in the Middle East or Europe.

The war has driven another 6.1 million Syrians from their homes inside the country, which means the violence has displaced just over half of Syria’s prewar population of 22 million.

While both families have escaped the immediate danger of the war, the pain of the ongoing destruction of their country haunts them almost daily.

MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-GHOUTA

Rescue workers help a man from a shelter in Eastern Ghouta, an area of Syria that has seen some of the most intense bombing in recent months. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

Almouisati lived in Eastern Ghouta for a number of years, and still has many friends in that area, where the latest tragic chapter of the conflict is playing out.

Airstrikes by Syria’s military and clashes with opposition forces there have left more than 1,000 people dead in the last month, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Almouisati spends hours on his smartphone watching clips posted from his old neighbourhood, near Damascus. “It’s very tragic, it’s very sad to watch these videos,” he said.

But the siege of Eastern Ghouta reassures him that the difficult decision to flee Syria was the right one.

“If we did not leave, we would now be living the life of those who stayed — every time someone leaves their house, they have to say goodbye to their family, because they may never come back,” he said.

Will Assad stay?

Seven years later, the war has pulled in numerous other countries, with forces from Russia, Iran, the United States, Turkey and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah active in the fighting.

With military help from Russia and Iran, Assad is no longer on the verge of defeat. Instead, his position is more secure than ever, and it’s expected that his forces, in time, will regain most of the territory lost to opposition fighters and jihadist groups, such as ISIS.

Bessma Momani, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, predicts that Moscow and Tehran could clash in the coming months over how Syria will be governed.

MIDEAST-CRISIS/SYRIA-GHOUTA

Analysts say that the forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin have had a large hand in preserving the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

“The Iranians are invested in making sure that the Assad regime stays in place — and Assad himself — which can’t be said about the Russians,” Momani said. “I think the Russians want the regime, but not necessarily Assad.”

The Syrian leader faces another serious challenge — namely, the presence of local militias in various parts of the country that will make it difficult for the government to reassert control.

“Assad is able to retake territory, but the challenge is he’s unable to consolidate legitimacy or governance in the territory he reclaimed, partly because warlords have basically taken over the job of governing these areas,” Momani said.

‘We are alone here’

Sulaiman is watching this complex, seemingly unending conflict unfold from Toronto, where she currently lives. Her four children are going to school here while she learns English.

“My whole life has changed. You can’t imagine how happy I am,” Sulaiman said. “You’re talking about Canada… you feel like you’re a human being, you have rights.”

“The only sadness I feel here is that Omar isn’t with me,” Sulaiman said.

In Jordan, Omar Almouisati spends his days trying to make money taking odd jobs as an electrician while worrying that his young daughters are missing out on an education. He and his wife had their fourth daughter in Amman, where they currently live in a tiny apartment.

skype-2

Omar Almouisati’s youngest daughter, Rose, is seen during a Skype conversation with Amani Sulaiman, a relative living in Toronto. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

“My children only go to school now in the afternoons,” he said. “They are not learning anything. I want them to get a good education so they have a good life.”

“We feel very depressed,” said Almouisati. “We are alone here, we have no family here. Our only family is Amani [Sulaiman], and she left, so we don’t have much.”

Despite poor internet service in Jordan, the two families try to bridge the time zones by coming together on Skype, where Sulaiman updates the Almouisatis on her efforts to relocate them to Canada.

But both families know it will not be easy.

Canada continues to resettle refugees from Syria, with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada telling CBC News that family reunification is “a priority” for the government. But only spouses and children are eligible — not cousins.

“God willing, I’ll see him again,” said Sulaiman. “Loneliness is hard. You can’t imagine how hard it is.”

“I want them to come to me. I’m not asking for a miracle, I swear, I’m not asking for a miracle.”

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'The legal fight is over': EU says eastern countries must abide refugee ruling

Eastern European Union states must drop their resistance and accept their share of refugees who arrived in the bloc, officials and diplomats said on Tuesday after a court ruled they must abide by the quota.

The EU’s highest court ruled last week that member states must take in a share of refugees who reach Europe, dismissing complaints by Slovakia and Hungary and reigniting an east-west row that has shaken the bloc’s cohesion.

Brussels and other capitals hope member states will respect the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling.

Poland and Hungary are opposed to accepting anybody, their reluctance shared by ex-communist peers Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who have, however, accepted a handful of people under a 2015 EU scheme designed to move 160,000 from Italy and Greece.

FRANCE EU PARLIAMENT

European Parliament member Manfred Weber said the migration crisis facing the union can only be dealt with through compromise. (Patrick Seeger/EPA)

“All members of the EU must respect the ruling,” Manfred Weber, the head of the of the largest faction in the European Parliament, told a news conference. “The legal fight is over.”

“Migration is still a political wound of the political landscape all over Europe …. All the reasonable and all the responsible politicians have to go now [toward] a compromise.”

No signs of budging from Poland, Hungary

EU officials and diplomats say they will make another push this autumn to try to bridge the divisions. EU interior ministers will debate the matter in Brussels on Wednesday.

However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will fight on.

Poland, whose nationalist government is now engulfed in spiralling feuds with the bloc, said its migration stance has not changed.

Italy and Greece, where most of the people crossing the Mediterranean disembark, as well as Germany, Sweden and other wealthy EU states where refugees and migrants want to head, want a quick aid scheme for any repeat of 2015.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped the dispute will soon be over after the ECJ ruling, but also made clear she saw it unacceptable for EU states to disregard the court.

The bloc may eventually vote on any changes to its migration and asylum laws by majority, leaving those reluctant behind, a move that would also widen the east-west splits in the bloc.

“I don’t think there is anything to argue about anymore. The decision is there for member states to implement,” said a senior EU diplomat.

Struggling to control chaotic movement of people at the height of the crisis, some EU states introduced emergency border checks inside what normally is the bloc’s Schengen zone of control-free travel.

They expire in November and Brussels is keen to restore the free flow of people across the EU, often hailed as a proud and tangible achievement of European integration.

Also on Wednesday, EU ministers will discuss a proposal by Germany, France, Denmark, Austria and Norway — not in the EU but part of Schengen — to allow for such extraordinary border checks to continue on security grounds, rather than migration.

In practice, that would mean keeping those already there in place for longer, as well as being able to apply them more easily in the future.

Denmark said last May it wanted to go on with border restrictions, while Germany has said it needs the checks to combat the threat of Islamic militancy in Europe after a raft of attacks around the bloc.

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