I moved from Turkey a year after the Turkish Government started mass targeting my community. As a result of this, we faced harassment, abuse and social boycotts. Many people abandoned their friends who belonged to our community, leaving them frightened and isolated. We were called terrorists and traitors. As a result, we were forced to live on the fringes of society. My people were even subjected to human rights violations in Turkish jails. The high school in which I studied was declared a terrorist high school. Some of my former teachers were arrested. When we were forced to move to another school, the new teachers discriminated against us and gave us lesser grades as compared to our fellow students. We felt trapped because expressing your worldview meant going to jail.
All these events left us emotionally drained and we felt unsafe wherever we went. To escape the trauma, we decided to move to Canada because of its reputation as an exemplary democracy and a safe haven for refugees. We wanted to move to a country where our human and civic rights were secure. Also, the cost of living here was lesser than most other countries. The first two years were really hard for me. I had lost practically everything. This drastically affected my self confidence because it seemed that everywhere I looked, other people’s lives were safe and stable. Since my refugee hearing took a great deal of time, legally I could only enroll as an international student, which my family couldn’t afford. Thus, I was only able to start my education two years later, which negatively impacted my sense of worth.
However, with time things did get better. I got into the University of Calgary and started volunteering in various community and faith organizations. Being involved in the community helped me in regaining my self confidence; I am who I am today because of that experience. Due to the support and kindness that I received from the Canadian community, my family and I felt safe and free. Our civil and human rights were protected, people were accepting, and the stigma that we faced in Turkey was long gone. We also didn’t face any kind of hostility because of our refugee status.
Initially, I had to do manual labour and warehouse jobs, but my supervisors and colleagues were always kind. I often miss my extended family back in Turkey who continue to face oppression. That being said, they’re settled there and have little desire to move here. I often worry about them, but I feel grateful that I am still able to remain in contact with them through FaceTime. Sometimes I feel that I should have been born here; Canadian culture just fits well with me. It was only when I came here that I got what I had longed for: freedom.
This freedom came with joys as well as challenges. The immigration process was a very large obstacle for me and my family. Due to Covid, the proceedings took longer than expected. However, my goals and aspirations kept me motivated throughout those challenging times. I continue to work towards my goals and my target for this year is to secure a co-op placement, which I think I will be able to achieve. My experiences as a refugee have inculcated in me a strong desire to advocate for human rights. At the University of Calgary, I work as a volunteer with the Amnesty International Club and the University in Diversity Association, both of which are working towards promoting diversity and human rights.
A piece of advice that I would like to give to people like me is to be patient and to not compare yourself to others; because being a refugee means you experience some added disadvantages than others. Also, it is very important to find motivation in your experiences and to help others like you.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity
This story is a collaborative effort between Dinky Tandon and Emin Aydin