Virtual reality brings refugee crisis home

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Want to feel extra lucky to be a Canadian this Canada Day? Visit the Refugee Tent in Osborne Village on Sunday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/06/2018 (1507 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Want to feel extra lucky to be a Canadian this Canada Day? Visit the Refugee Tent in Osborne Village on Sunday.

The digital simulation, hosted by non-profit groups, lets visitors experience some of the challenges refugees face on their journey to Canada. Participants put on virtual reality goggles for an interactive experience simulating the global displacement crisis.

The multi-media Refugee Tent was developed for the Canadian Labour Congress to help the public gain a better understanding of why Canada is being asked to welcome desperate people seeking refuge.

Every year, Canada welcomes thousands of refugees who, after fleeing their home countries, may have languished for years in overcrowded camps or faced harrowing journeys. The Balukhali refugee camp (above) in Bangladesh is home to thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar, where they are being killed by the military because of their ethnicity and religion. (Wong Maye-E / The Assocaited Press)

“For a lot of us, we learn by experiencing something,” said Louise Simbandumwe, an Amnesty International Winnipeg volunteer who arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1979.

Every year, Canada welcomes thousands of refugees who, after fleeing their home countries, may have languished for years in overcrowded camps or faced harrowing journeys most Canadians cannot imagine. They endure these hardships to escape violence, death, imprisonment or starvation for themselves and their families. The Refugee Tent allows participants see what they experience, through their eyes.

“Building that sense of empathy and how important it is to be part of building a safe haven for refugees — that’s something we can celebrate, especially when you look at what’s happening south of the border,” said Simbandumwe.

The Refugee Tent will be open in the outdoor plaza of the Gas Station Arts Centre, Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s sponsored by Amnesty International Winnipeg, Canadian Labour Congress, Migrante Manitoba, Migrant Worker Solidarity Network, and Reaching Out Winnipeg.

Amnesty International members will be on site, circulating petitions urging the Canadian government to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement concerning refugees who come to Canada via the United States, and urging U.S. authorities to re-unify migrant families that have been separated by American officials.

“We need to rescind that agreement,” said Simbandumwe. Without it, “people could go to a port of entry and they could claim asylum in Canada and have a refugee hearing.

“It would prevent people from taking a very dangerous journey and crossing the border in other ways,” she said, pointing to asylum-seekers who have risked life and limb crossing into Canada near Emerson, and lost both.

“It’s not safe for many refugees,” said the resettled woman from Burundi who was awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, studied at the University of Oxford, and chose to work at SEED Winnipeg in the North End, providing employment and economic development services to low-income families.

“From a personal perspective, I am incredibly grateful we were able to come to Canada and rebuild our lives and contribute in a positive way — creating a country that’s more accepting and compassionate.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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