Young Mexican, Afghan immigrants to meet prime minister and royal couple in Vancouver
Friday, September 16, 2016

Narges Samimi’s eyes still fill with tears when she tries to talk about her war-torn homeland of Afghanistan. The 19-year-old has spent the past three years in B.C. as an immigrant and the three years before that in a Turkish refugee camp. 

Samimi and her family now live in Burnaby and she travels most days to Coquitlam College where she is studying to become a youth worker, with an eye to helping newcomers like herself.

She and fellow new Canadian Marlio Herrera Lira, also 19, are scheduled to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Sept. 25 at Immigrant Services Society of B.C.’s new Vancouver welcome centre, which opened this summer. Both went through the society’s Multicultural Youth Circle (MY Circle), a peer-driven program that helps young newcomers settle into Canada.

“MY Circle was a spark in my life,“ Samimi said. “If I didn’t attend MY Circle I wouldn’t be the person I am now.”

Herrera Lira, his parents and two siblings came to Canada from Mexico in 2010, setting themselves on a quest to become Canadians. Their refugee claim was initially turned down, but they were ultimately allowed to stay on compassionate grounds.

“For four years, we were in this limbo called ‘refugee claimant’, this weird limbo,” said Herrera Lira, who is a film student at Capilano University.

He and his family fled Mexico because of the steadily escalating violence between drug cartels and corrupt police in the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes. He said he watched as his mother was stalked and harassed by one police officer, and recalled daily news reports of shootings and disappearances.

It was only as a young teen in Vancouver that he eventually stopped seeing police as a threat.

“At first you’d have that rush feeling, heart’s pumping,” he said. Herrera Lira attended high school in Surrey and is also renrolled in ISS programs in Burnaby and Vancouver.

The society’s MY Circle program involves 80 hours of sessions over 11 weeks, aimed at easing stress for young newcomers and helping them integrate. Past participants help run sessions for newcomers, and Herrera Lira was leading sessions when he first met Samimi after she arrived in 2013.

“I was kind of scared of how it was going to be here,” Samimi said. “I didn’t know any English at all, I learned some alphabet in Turkey.”

The society helped Samimi enrol in Grade 11 at Burnaby’s Byrne Creek Secondary the year she arrived. By last year, she was following the federal election that saw Justin Trudeau elected prime minister. The pair will also be meeting Trudeau the day of the royal visit.

As for a message to Prince William and his wife Kate, Herrera Lira said: “It’s easy to target or mark immigrants and refugees as savages coming from a savage country . But they’re just people who would be more than happy to stay where they grew up. The sad reality is that they were forced to leave home. They need support both to get to a safe place and also for them to become citizens, either in Britain or in Canada.

“There will be amazing and talented people coming, and also very hurt people, people who have lost lives, and are dealing with trauma.”

read more

Source: The Vancouver Sun / Glen Schaefer