President's Colloquium on Refugees

The first President’s Colloquium of 2016 was hosted in Lane Hall on Feb 2nd. The subject of the speech: the Syrian War and its resulting refugee crisis, which affects its surrounding countries and most of the European Union. The goal of the colloquium was to raise awareness of this large problem and get people involved in the issue, and it also aimed to promote a positive view on the integration of refugees into Canadian Society. 

Tareq Hudhud speaks about his experiences as a Syrian Refugee. Photo - Dylan Lawrence

Even though a residence may seem like an odd place to host such an event, the Pit served its purpose well and was filled to capacity. The opening speech was given by Dr. Kent MacDonald, the President of StFX. Dr. MacDonald opening with the importance of the discussion, recognizing the importance of SAFE (the Syrian-Antigonish Families Embrace), and the opening of the committee StFX for SAFE, run by Benjamin McGrath.

MacDonald praised the work of SAFE, saying, “This movement, this outreach behind our university and community, is what really makes StFX strong [and] unique”.

He went on to introduce the key speakers of the event, such as Tareq Hadhad and his family, the first Syrian refuges who have been settled in the Antigonish area, quoting Hadhad’s story as “an amazing tale of survival, and one of great humanitarian crisis that is perhaps even worse today than it was last month.” Another person of interest who opened Mr. Hadhad’s speech following Dr. Kent MacDonald’s introduction was Dr. Joseph Khoury. The StFX English Professor was actually a refugee himself, hailing from Lebanon. 

Khoury introduced Hadhad’s story by putting the refugee crisis in statistical perspective. “Syria is not a huge country. In 2013, it had the population of 22 million. That’s 22 times the population of Nova Scotia on a country that is only three times our size…and about half that population are now refugees. Of those, six million have fled Syria and six million are internally displaced…320 thousand people have been killed, or to put that into perspective, about 1 200 people a week. Of those killed, over 120 thousand are children, and 1.5 million have been wounded or permanently disabled.” He continued, drawing light on the size and scale of the refuge crisis, saying, “Six million - that’s six times the population of Nova Scotia - are without home, without food, water, medicine, or heat for the cold. The majority of these poor souls are women and children - in fact, about one half are children.” He went on to mention his past struggles as a refugee, and his escape to Canada. “We escaped, and were welcomed by the wonderful people of Ottawa, and we remain grateful.”

Tareq Hadhad took the floor afterwards, explaining his story. A young man, only 23, he was finishing his education in the field of Medicine at the University of Damascus when the war started. He explained the impact of the war on his city, and his home in the southern suburbs of Damascus. “Our whole family lived in one building. This is the Syrian kind of life. It was a peaceful life; everything was arranged to be a bright future for us all.” He continued with his perspective on the bombing of his University, which happened only three hours after his narrow escape back to the place where he grew up, and the terror he experienced, saying, “Thoughts of leaving Syria started when I came back from university...a rocket hit near us. This was the most danger me and my brother faced.” Though luckily neither Hudhud nor his brother were injured in the attack, it was a close call - one that was enough to convince him and his family to depart for Lebanon, where they would spend over a year before being accepted into Canada. As it is illegal to be a refugee in Lebanon, each day was dangerous and conditions in the camp where they stayed were poor. “The victims of Syria are those who are still there, who face the hardest of conditions,” he finished. Yet despite the adversity, Hadhad displayed a great sense of humour, and his English was quite refined for only having spent little over a month and a half in the country.  

The final part of the Colloquium emphasized the importance of action, with the overall theme of the evening being one of narrow escape and hope for humanity. “There is nothing truer than helping another human being,” Dr. Khoury said.

Those who pass by Governors Hall and Somers and Powers apartments will see that the telltale thermometer sitting on the island of grass in between the roads in and out of StFX now reads 30 thousand, with the actual number being “closer to 35”, according to Khoury. Dr. MacDonald personally put forward 5 000 dollars in StFX’s name, while Sylvia Phee of the Unifor Local 2107 mentioned the Union would also donate 5 000 dollars, with an additional 1 000 dollars from the local chapel.  

Fundraising continues for SAFE and the Syrian Refugees, with the long term goal of raising $100 thousand and bringing two more refugee families to Antigonish