Reflections on Relocation, Resettlement, and Respect
By Petra Molnar Diop
“Migrants are heroes.”
This is a sentiment that I heard in passing at a conference not too long ago, but one that has stayed with me as I continue my work in forced migration research and refugee settlement in Canada. I think it is an interesting conceptualization because migrants and refugees are often reduced to simplistic tropes: they are either hapless victims of violence who must flee their native lands and seek asylum and hand-outs somewhere in the Global North; or else they are construed to be scam artists and bogus claimants, out to fleece the so-called benevolent immigration and refugee determination systems of rich and powerful Western countries.
For me, what matters in my work is recognizing the immense sacrifices that people make when they face dislocation and relocation, and when they deal with the precarity that comes with the life-altering decision to move across the globe with immense grace and strength. As a migrant myself, I too know the longing one continues to feel for one’s homeland, culture, and familiar surroundings; even decades after making a new home someplace else, the pain of relocation is still fresh. Nonetheless, what is important to recognize is that migrants have agency and they exercise it in their movements across the globe. With protracted refugee situations rampant across the world and refugee warehousing paradigm sequestering migrants in refugee camps or precarious internal displacement settings for decades at a time, asylum seekers who flee autonomously and seek refugee status abroad should not be vilified for this, but their ingenuity and resourcefulness should be celebrated.
For me, the people I work with are heroes because they inspire me to work towards a better world every single day. Whether from Albania, Colombia, or Zimbabwe, these people truly show me what it means to be a respectful, kind, and open-minded citizen of the world. They remind me how paramount respect is in all human interactions and how you can go a long way when you check your biases and prejudices at the door.
Coming to Canada has blown my own mind wide open and I am so privileged every single day to be able to work with people from every corner of the globe. However, I think my favourite moments are when I get to witness children playing together – children for whom it does not matter that they are of different ages, speak different languages, wear different clothing, or that their skin is a different colour. For them, what seems to matter is that they have found new friends in this strange new land. They are able to see past cultural and societal differences and just play together and learn from each other. There is something so pure and beautiful about this and I feel profound sorrow that adults are unable to trust each other this way. Somehow, we allow differences in culture, wealth, power, and religion to obscure the fact that we are all human beings.
I truly do hope that one day I do not have a job in the field of refugee and forced migration, because that would mean the time is over for millions of people who are displaced, fleeing conflict, and making difficult journeys to strange new lands to escape violence and persecution. It would mean that the world is a safer place, one in which people from different backgrounds and cultures can co-exist and learn from each other, a time when refugees are not “guilty-until-proven-innocent”, a time that is hopefully in the not too distant future.