Special to The National Herald
What happens when you take a brilliant journalist (Robert Fisk), a world class diplomat (Catherine Boura) and a critically acclaimed documentarian (NeleferPazira) and put them on stage to discuss the Middle East and the refugee crisis? The answer is a jammed to capacity (700 seats) crowd who eagerly listen to these experts who have experienced the refugee crisis from three different vantage points.
The event held in Vancouver on March 7th, was a collaboration between the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies and Simon Fraser’s University President’s Square. The President of Simon Fraser University, Andrew Petter welcomed the audience and remarked that “we at Simon Fraser University believe that the health of communities –local and global- depends upon citizens coming together to share information, exchange views.” “The university”, he added “provides a public square for dialogue on major issues of the day.”
Robert Fisk, a multi-award winning Middle East correspondent for The Independent, rendered an on-the-ground perspective of events in the Middle East and the origins of the refugee crisis. The audience hung on every word. Fisk did not mince words when he rebuked the media, and blamed the infamous historic Balfour agreement for the crisis in the Middle East.
Fisk lamented that: “the western democracies are precisely the countries that have imposed their will, and installed dictators, in the Arab lands since the end of World War I. The West, he said, thinks it has a right and a duty to do so. But these are not our people,” Fisk said :“they have a different history and culture from the West, and we have no business intervening.”
Her Excellency Catherine Boura who is Greece’s permanent representative to the United Nations, framed her analysis by offering data and proposing solutions for the crisis.
Ambassador Boura underscored the crisis when she told the audience: “At the end of 2015 more than 65 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide. 21.3 million were refugees. The majority were children and women.” She reminded the audience that “In 2015, Greece received more than 800,000 refugees…”, she added: “Icannot emphasize enough the solidarity shown by local communities especially in the Greek frontline islands, where people put tremendous efforts and financial resources to rescue people in need and to receive them in a humane way at a time of very serious financial constraints.”
Catherine Boura also warned of the complexities of the refugee crisis such as the human traffickers who have amassed billions of dollars. “These criminal groups are likely to smuggle arms, to traffic people, women and girls to slavery, or sponsor terrorism because they thrive from it.” She concluded:“Efficient relocation and resettlement mechanisms must be put in place to secure orderly and legal means of movement and provide opportunities for resettlement of refugees, combating trafficking and smuggling networks.”
Finally, NeloferPazira offered the perspective of the refugee. NeloferPazirais an award-winning Afghan-Canadian director, actress, journalist and author. She grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she lived through ten years of Soviet occupation before escaping with her family to Pakistan, before immigrating to Canada. In 1996 she returned to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in search of a childhood friend. That journey became the basis for the critically-acclaimed film Kandahar, in which she starred.
As a refugee her poignant story and that of her family spoke to the hearts of all who attended the event. Her narrative put a face on the ubiquitous refugee. Walking from Afghanistan to Pakistan with her family is a testament to the plight of refugees.
Her father had been a pediatrician in Kabul and found himself unable to practice medicine when he arrived in Canada. Throughout his refugee trek he carried a suit, which was carefully tucked away that represented who he had been in his homeland. While in Canada, he kept the ritual of preserving that suit and pulling it out as a reminder of his previous life. This message was not lost on his creative daughter Nelofer who founded the Dyana Afghan Women’s fund, which provides education and skills training for women in Afghanistan.
The humanitarian crisis of refugees is dire. The evening of engaging with Fisk, Boura and Pazira was disturbing as well as enlightening. The dynamic among the speakers provided three unique insights into the refugee crisis and gave the audience an educational and memorable experience.