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Becoming a Refugee

The Smell of War in the Air - Yella and Mooshie Zahirovich

Time 3:12


Mooshie Zahirovich (MZ) : So Yugoslavia was falling apart and, and some, parts of it already declared as, as independent states, and, and I could hear guns closer and closer coming to my place. And, and you could feel this uneasiness all around us. And, and men were taking arms already and sending the, uh, children and wives and older people outside the country as much as they could.

That’s what I did with my pregnant wife. And I had to stay behind because I had a job and still was that hope—it’s not going to happen. I—it’s hard to explain, because this is—we have that inside us, we always hope for the best. That we become ob—oblivious to somethings happening around us that everyone can see but you cannot.

And, I, because I was, I was in sit—my marriage situation was different. I could not participate in activities of local men, and I didn’t take part in any preparation for the war.

Pressure was enormous. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and eventually one day I say, “Okay, I’m going to take a, a part in, in uh, in guarding the village.” So, one night, from midnight to morning, I went there with the gun and other guys and just watched for something. I, and then I decided, no, you know what? This is not for me. I just don’t belong here. As, as we didn’t.

And as it proved. Usually in a war you have two sides fighting. In Bosnia it was three sides fighting each other. So, like, it’s, like almost double, everything magnified. And, uh, my ethnic group was fighting hers, and—

Yella Zahirovich (YZ) : Basically, my brother was fighting his brother. Because—

MZ : Yeah. It, it—

YZ : Both of them of them were soldiers.

MZ : Not directly, but on different war lines, but it’s, it was that.

And then I, the following morning, a colleague of mine and I, we took the car, and I remember leaving my village and driving the car between the bombs that were set up on the, on the road, as a part of protecting that village from, uh, tanks. And, and I was leaving and already my town—nothing was happening. Division was complete—police did not exist, government didn’t exist, nothing, nothing, nothing. We smelled the war in the air.

And, and I left—managed to leave, but actually I still had the hope that I’m going to come back.

YZ : Yeah.

MZ : It’s, it’s, it’s still unbelievable, but that’s why I didn’t even take my passport with me. Of course I’m going to come back. I never came back. I’m in Canada.

Oral History 14.03.06YMZ with Yella and Mooshie Zahirovich
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

By Sea or Land: Refugees or Displaced Persons?
Van-Nha Tran

Time 3:23


(This video is only available in French; the transcript has been translated from French.)

Yes, that's it. Since we, we, we learned that, uhm, the—by ocean, directly from Vietnam, it's a lot more difficult, because it's uhm, it's the pirates, the, uhm, it's the? the China Sea, it's the sea to the east of Vietnam, that's a lot of movement, so it's—but we left the country in small boats, you might say rowboats. So, uhm, about? like, in the case of our rowboat, it was only 10? 10 meters long and three meters wide, but we fit about 33 people in it. So, uhm, that's? that's why we, uhm, first took the road by land from? from Vietnam to Cambodia. So, uh, from? from Cambodia, we were going to use the rowboat to go to Thailand. It's easier. So, that's why we? we? I left Vietnam on January 21st 1988. Yes, it's true, so January 26 is the anniversary of my marriage. I? I got to Thailand by boat, but from Cambodia to Thailand. So, it's, that's how—we had an other problem at that point, the? the, uhm? at that time, to be a refugee over there, they said only people who arrived by boat that? that were considered refugees. On the other hand, people who arrived by land, like crossing the border between Cambodia and Thailand, they were not considered refugees. They called them, like, displaced persons. And if they are displaced persons, they can't be refugees. So, that's why we, uhm? the camp? in the camp, because I was the leader of a one thousand person neighborhood— we made a petition stating that—explaining to them that, how can we get to the camp? It's? it's? it's? that's not why we made the distinction between refugees and displaced persons. Because we have to save our lives? our lives first. How to find a better way to get to the camp? that's? it's up to us. But if we can prove that we were persecuted in our country, at that point, we can be refugees. So, in our case, it's like I explained that time, in school, I had no problems, but as the? the parish choir leader, sometimes the local government did some... It would make things difficult for us, I guess. Yes.

Oral History 15.12.09VNT with Van-Nha Tran
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

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Women at Risk Refugee Program - Kathleen Sigurdson

Time 1:39


Kathleen Sigurdson (KS): Because all the applications, even from those other countries—so if you were living in Qatar, you had to apply to Abu Dhabi because we didn’t have any offices there. And also when I was in Abu Dhabi, it was a time when it started, I started, obviously with headquarters approval, a women at risk refugee program, so very small, talking maybe fifty people a year. Worked with the UNHCR and brought in Somalis. So, there was a huge camp in southern part of Yemen, not that far geographically from Somalia, with maybe ten, twelve thousand people that live in the camp and have been living there for years. They come over by boat from Somalia, it’s quite treacherous actually. And there’s not that many countries taking people out of there, so they just stay there for a long time. And some of the women, especially those who have children, are really more at risk, so we started a program, so it was going into Yemen and dealing with that. It was also very interesting.

Emily Burton: How did you define risk exactly?

KS: Um, well the UNHCR does a lot of that for us. I think we work very closely with them and they know the people, they talk to the people. It’s their people who working in the camp, so they know whose being bothered, whose been maybe attacked or raped or who has maybe a lot of, a lot of children so it’s very difficult to keep an eye on all of them. A lot of them were illiterate, so they were more vulnerable to exploitation by other people, so they would sort of recommend certain cases and then we would interview them.

Oral History 16.03.08KS with Kathleen Sigurdson
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

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Hiding in the Jungle - Bwe Doh Soe

Time 2:41


I was very young, and I wasn’t remember anything, because all I remember was my, my mom was grabbing my hands, and is told me to run. And he was grabbing me so hard, and he grabbed some of the belonging, and, we ran away. And then we were—because I was a—I was very young, so I didn’t know, but now when I realise it now day, it’s such a, it’s very emotional. Like, it’s such a very—I can’t, I can’t—like, I can’t imagine it. You know, I can’t image it, at that time. But what is like being in a mother that times, you know, how the people will go through it in this kind of situation. But it’s because I was very, you know, I have a best, I have a friend also there. And then, all I remember was my mom was grabbing my hands, and we, and told me to run. And later of the day, a few days, people—we were hiding in the jungle, so, and I was, and later on, we heard that some of the people was got shot. Which is including one of a friends, you know. And it is just, it’s, everybody was, like, crying, you know, everybody was crying, and we were starving, and then I remember it was like, the children also were, um, cry, and they were told not to cry because they were, were afraid that the soldiers would hear that, and they will, uh, capture us. And then my mother—and then, so my mother decided to go directly to the refugee camp, and then—but my mother relatives not giving up. They were like: No, we will—even things that happen— we’ll stay going back. We’ll stay. It’s like, when, it’s, like once they left their homeland, and then they were waiting for a week or two weeks or three weeks and they were going back to get their belongings again, you know. Whatever left. But most of the time, the soldier destroyed, pretty much everything. But there was something left. The animal all those kind of stuff, you know. But my mother decided to come to the refugee camp. So, and then some of the soldiers who take a best to, um—My mother asked the soldiers, the Karen soldier, to take us best to—to the refugee—to the border, and then we crossed the river, and we had to work, walk, like, three days or four day to get to a refugee camp. Yeah.

Oral History 13.11.23BDSwith Bwe Doh Soe
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

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We Never Talk About Hope - Bwe Doh Soe

Time 1:00


To me, like, because we are living such —I think we have—we don’t even understand what is hope, you know. What is, like, hoping to be somebody. Or hoping to become someone. Like, we don’t even have—and I was never think about hoping to become something, you know? I thinks because we are always—we are born with a culture, and we are born with a people who always, I don’t know, is always in the, have to go through so much stuff, and we always forced to leave. We’re forced to leave our country, we forced to do those kind of stuff. Now, hope, it’s not the—it’s not popular. Or, it’s not famous in the, the children, you know, to when I was around that time. We never talk about hope, or to become—we were, I think, yeah, maybe my family might have disabused that with such the very, I was, ten or eleven, or twelve, I didn’t know a lot. All I do is, like, go around, like, you know. It just daily routine that you never, uh, yeah.

Oral History 13.11.23BDS with Bwe Doh Soe
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Students for Change - Richard Tshimanga

Time 1:51


(This audio is only available in French; the transcript has been translated from French.)

Yes. Actually, at first, I did? I was always, I was always in the—in my country, when I was a student I was in the? the? the pro-change student associations that were always against the regime, to denounce social and economic injustices, and all that. We were always the target of all kinds of treatments. We were always the victims of aggressions, arrests and everything. And I? I struggled to keep going with my studies because I had to—at one point they came to get students in the uni? university, in the home where we were staying. And then I had to flee, to leave the? the university apartments, so I went on to live in the neighbourhood, like everybody else. That's when my studies got interrupted. Not only that, but at one point I also had financial problems. Because economic realities made paying for my studies very expensive. And I was not always able to pay? pay, because I had no income, no resources and all that. I later incorporated politics into it. I started working when I grew up.

Oral History 12.06.06RT with Richard Tshimanga
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

My Father’s Music - Ilse Thompson

Time 0:03:48


Ilse Thompson (IT): And, um, we had a wonderful time. But then the day came when I met my girlfriend on the street. A girlfriend, my best friend, on the street, and she looked, didn't look at me, she didn't say hello. She was busy walking to wherever she was going. She was not allowed to speak to Jewish children.

Steve Schwinghamer (SS): How old were you when that happened?

IT: Well, I was, I always forget. This is not in this book, it's in another book I wrote but, um, well, I was born in ‘23 and that was Grade—I was in Grade Six, so I went to school in 1933, I think. No, ’33, that would be ten, ten years. Well, it was about, I was about ten, or eleven.

SS: Ten or eleven?

IT: Yeah. And I took piano lessons and I was very good. Well, if I can say so myself. I can't play like that anymore. I played Beethoven Sonatas when I was eleven, and Chopin Etudes when I was the same age. And, my father, who was self-taught, he loved Beethoven, and our bedroom—my brother over here and me right beside wall and my brother on the other side, right beside a wall where there was some linen, a linen wall—they put, they wanted to cut out the—there was a big door they wanted to close—and he played the piano every night. It came to the point I could not sleep if he wasn't there. So, the maid had problems when—the times they went out that much, but I'm used to going to sleep with music on, with my father's music. And we talked music and he showed me music, and when we went for a walk he gave me arithmetic problems because I loved arithmetic. Mathematics it wasn't, it was just counting. I loved that and he gave me questions. And I was much closer to my father because of the music, than I was to my mother. But when Hitler came, well, you know, we thanked God. I don't believe in God anymore after all the holocaust at that time. He—they closed the—no more school for Jewish children. So, the only way children could get an education—if you can call it that, what I had wasn't hardly an education. We were sent to—Jewish synagogues opened their facilities, some synagogues, for teaching. And of course the teachers were Jewish that were fired from their ordinary schools and the German—what is very important to know is, in Germany, Jews were first Germans, and Jews only on the side. We were not religious. There were some religious Jews somewhere but we didn't go to the synagogue, we didn't eat kosher food. We were Germans. And my father was in the war, you know. He fought for the Kaiser.

Oral History 08.04.02IT with Ilse Thompson
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

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