Challenging the marginalization of African refugees

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Kimbra Yohannes and Daniel Tseghay. They are members of We Welcome African Refugees, a new organization working to challenge the marginalization of refugees from African countries in public conversation and public policy in Canada, and to implement a new model of community organizing.

In the last year, the issues of refugees have been part of the dominant public conversation in Canada like never before. Everyone has heard at least some version of the the situation in Syria and the experiences of those who have fled, and despite a certain amount of racism and resistance, efforts to modestly increase and accelerate the admission of Syrian refugees to Canada have been quite broadly embraced by many Canadians.

Over this time, though, Yohannes, Tseghay, and many other people who are part of communities in Canada with roots in various African countries, have noticed something odd about both the public conversation and about the measures enacted by the Canadian government to respond to the refugee crisis. Yohannes and Tseghay are emphatically supportive of Syrian refugees, and in fact argue that Canada should be admitting many, many more Syrians and giving them much better support when they arrive. But they wonder why Africans, who comprise a significant part of global flows of refugees, are so absent from public attention, and at times even get scant attention within some migrant justice contexts. Furthermore, they note that Africans have been pointedly excluded from the modest government efforts to increase and ease admissions to Canada, and that even the government processing of requests for private sponsorships of African refugees remains uncertain and often extremely slow. This exclusion is happening despite the fact that Canada and other Western countries are often very complicit in the circumstances in many African countries that people are fleeing. Both Yohannes and Tseghay are Eritrean, for instance, and Canadian mining companies are very much complicit in (that is, are profiting from) the repressive regime that upwards of 5000 Eritreans per month are risking their lives to escape. The ongoing marginalization faced by refugees from African countries is yet another expression of the anti-Black racism that causes such harm in Canada and globally.

We Welcome African Refugees aims to make African refugees part of the public conversation in Canada, and to push the responses of the Canadian public and the Canadian state to the global refugee crisis to include measures that centre African refugees. But that is not all the group is attempting to do: They are working to create a new organizing model that is rooted in the communities in question in robust grassroots ways. They are currently fundraising to hire part-time organizers in Vancouver, Toronto, and either Edmonton or Calgary, who will do the slow but vital work of connecting with and bringing together people from diverse African communities, who in turn will take leadership of the process and advance a set of priorities and actions that will truly address the needs their people face.

Yohannes and Tseghay speak with me about the experiences of refugees from Eritrea and other African countries, about the marginalization of African refugees within popular discourse and government policy in Canada, and about the new grassroots model that We Welcome African Refugees is using to challenge this marginalization.

To learn more about We Welcome African Refugees, check out their page on Facebook. To donate to their current fundraising campaign, go to their page on GoFundMe.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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