(NC) As a young lawyer in Columbia, Diana Gallego was passionately committed to protecting human rights in her country, a land fraught with criminality, police brutality and a long-standing conflict with guerilla rebels.
Despite the immense challenges at home, Gallego never imaged that one day she would become a refugee and need to seek safety elsewhere. But after repeated threats from paramilitary forces, she was forced to flee to Canada where she was granted asylum in 2003.
Gaining residency here was a long and difficult path, but now both she and her husband are sharing their legal expertise and first-hand experience by working with organizations that help other new refugees settle in Canada. Gallego and her husband Luis Mata attribute their success here to the generosity and friendship from Canadians who supported them and gave them strength during difficult times.
In the past year, many Canadians have demonstrated similar generosity and sponsored refugees from Syria. More than 30,000 Syrians have settled in Canada in 2016. But not everyone who wants to sponsor a refugee necessarily has the capacity to do so. Fortunately, there are many other ways to extend support.
Human rights organizations like Amnesty International note that refugees live in almost every community across Canada and that there are often opportunities to volunteer at local settlement organization. You may be able to befriend a new arrival by taking them to appointments, providing support in a homework club, or helping them learn English.
You can also speak to your member of parliament and let them know you support programs and services for refugees, or write letters in support of refugees who are at risk around the world. Gallego says that these simple steps can help make newcomers feel welcome.
Compassion and welcome are two of the best gifts we can give to newcomers in Canada. Sometimes it can be as simple as a friendly smile or providing directions to the post office.
Find more information at www.amnesty.ca.