Abdulrahman Matar from Syria, Arzu Yildis from Turkey, and Luis Najera from Mexico are living in exile in Canada. They’re journalists who, because of their political opinions and for the books, articles, and poems that they have written, were driven from their homelands under threat of imprisonment and torture.
The Trent community gathered February 27 at Nozhem: First Peoples Performance Space to hear the journalists’ stories. They formed a panel event hosted by Gzowski College and organized by Dr. James Cullingham, a journalist, documentary filmmaker and Trent alumnus.
At the event, Dr. Cullingham, who is this year’s Gzowski College visiting follow, spoke on the importance and privilege of Canada’s freedoms of speech and thought – freedoms that are especially appreciated by the panelists who fled to Canada for being persecuted for their search for the truth.
“The job of a good journalist is to find and tell the truth, even when that truth puts you in danger,” says Arzu Yildiz, the journalist from Turkey.
Panelist Luis Najera, from Mexico, said journalists in countries without political freedoms face great danger, and shared with the audience the pressure and fear he felt when he wrote, knowing that his words would likely send him to prison.
Dr. Cullingham’s latest project, a documentary called “The Cost of Freedom,” attempts to capture the story and perspectives of these refugee journalists.
“There are films about refugees and films about journalists,” says Dr. Cullingham, “But not about refugee journalists.”
The common thread amongst these journalists is that their exile has led them to seek refuge in Canada, which has presented its own set of challenges. The culture shock and language barriers often frustrate their attempts to build a new life for themselves in a foreign country.
“I am working, but not as a journalist,” said panelist Abdulrahman Matar.
Unable to secure steady journalism work, these prolific writers have entered into the service industry, and struggle to secure shelter and schooling for themselves and their children.
Mr. Najera identified three main struggles: communication with others (often through a language barrier), acceptance of oneself (outside of a defining career), and the difficulties of being absent from his home country. Living in exile, these journalists have missed out on the lives of the families that they left behind.
The journalists who spoke at last night's panel had a diverse range of experiences, but ultimately share similar hardships endured as a penalty for daring to speak up against authoritative governments. The unique perspectives and knowledge which they have gained, as well as their struggles and hardships in rebuilding a life in Canada, are a valuable lesson for Canadians to learn.