Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Refugees, Lowkey & M.I.A. - One Year Later

It is now one year later for the first wave of resettled Syrian refugees here in Canada. The second year and those that follow will bring about a whole new round of challenges. For those first to arrive, December marks the end of the government-sponsored refugee package and its monthly living allowance. They now will either have to support themselves or fall back on provincial social assistance. For those of us here in Canada, one year has passed since we watched the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War filter into our cities.

One year later perspective and awareness are key; key to understanding, to growing, to survival and most of all - hope.

courtesy Reuters

Developing both an awareness and understanding of the complex nature of the refugee, due to many factors and moving parts, is important toward acknowledging not just the international community's role, but our community's role in aiding refugees today.  It is hoped that, at the very least, the Calgary community now understands the definition of the term "refugee." According to international law, a refugee is specifically someone who is fleeing armed conflict or persecution and has sought refuge across international borders. The UNHCR puts it plainly: "These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences." 

Misunderstanding the term can have dangerous consequences for refugees, and often gives way to political debate and xenophobia in place of relief during a humanitarian crisis.

courtesy AP

While the media's focus is often on Europe and the numbers of Syrians who arrived in Canada this past year, it's important to raise awareness of the fact that the vast majority of Syrian refugees are in fact displaced in neighbouring Middle Eastern countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where massive populations are living in camps near the borders. The still daily influx puts incredible strains on these host countries and their limited resources, especially when it's a relatively small country like Lebanon, which currently has about 1.2 million Syrian refugees, while the country itself only has a population of about 4.5 million. The approximately 30,000 refugees that have been absorbed into a population of 35 million here in Canada pales by comparison.

courtesy AP

Europe has often been called more socially conscious, more engaged with of unilateralism, with multiculturalism, than Canada and the United States, and as a general rule it would be difficult to argue against this. On the European continent one can fly for two hours in any direction and arrive at any number of vastly different cultures, with unique languages and customs. Fly in any direction for 4 or 5 hours on this side of the pond and one winds up in virtually the same place. And if this is true, the artists and musicians of Europe often reflect the multiplicity of perspective on a level that surpasses the more monolithic spheres of influence here in North American life.

courtesy Reuters

Throughout history, artists have risen to the occasion to speak about justice, equality, love, liberty, and peace. With Europe's geopolitical landscape shifting amidst the worst migrant crisis in more than a half century, and the first cracks beginning to show in the European Union and all for which it stands, musicians are reflecting the world around them. Hip-hop artists, a genre of music and expression that is innately political, often come to the forefront at such a time and today is no different. Leading the way in European hip-hop circles for years is Lowkey.

courtesy AP

Born of to an Iraqi mother and English father, he is a product of colonialism, Lowkey's family (Kareem Dennis) escaped Iraq in the 1970’s, according to his song Cradle of Civilisation, a tribute to the land of Mesopotamia. For more than a decade, Lowkey has cut down to the political bone with biting lyrics critiquing the class system, capitalism, the Palestinian Crisis, 9/11, international terrorism and perhaps most famously,  American Foreign Policy in Obama Nation. Whether one agrees with his perspectives or not, his work incites discussion and debate about important topics, exposing the youth of today to the vastness and complexity of their burgeoning new world.

courtesy AP

This brings us to the topic at hand and the tragic and moving photograph taken just over a year ago of a drowned Syrian boy face down in muck after his body washed ashore in Turkey that caused heartbreak among people worldwide, and refocused attention on the international refugee crisis. Lowkey's 2016 release of "Ahmed", a tribute and social commentary about the death of this very same young boy whose life ended all to soon, is a slashing take on the world he sees.  The first verse leaves no doubt of Lowkey's perspective on the crisis that continues to unfold in Syria. "Did Ahmed not deserve a life? - Ahmed never hurt a fly - Ahmed never knew the politicians he was murdered by - Certain times Ahmed wished that he could be a bird and fly - Beyond the sky - Escape the curse of birth that he was burdened by."



Another 2016 release from London born, Sri Lanka and India raised artist M.I.A. (Mathangi Arulpragasam) called "Borders" also comes to mind at the one year anniversary of Canada's intake of Syrian refugees. Rapper,  producer, director,  and artist, M.I.A. began her career in 2000 as a visual artist, filmmaker and designer in west London, before beginning her recording career in 2002 and has since been nominated for an Academy Award, three Grammy Awards and the Mercury Prize.
courtesy Reuters

The track, which fuses eastern and western styles, questions the fabric of modern society – politics, identities, privilege, smartphones and the internet– before reducing the world down to its essentials: family, power, belief and values.



One year later and it appears both everything and nothing has changed. Perhaps all we can do is continue to care, be aware and to understand.  CFN has and will continue to be a voice within the Calgary Community that spreads awareness within the walls of the Centre, online and through social media, in person and face to face, that generates discussions among our own communities about such issues. Above all else, we continue to imagine and strive. each and every day, to help make Calgary a community that values diversity, in which people of all backgrounds find and create opportunities to fulfil dreams and participate fully as citizens. Now... let us see what the next years brings. 

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