Former African refugees say Syrians not only ones needing help

Two former refugees from Africa, who now advocate for refugees, say Africans are being forgotten in the rush to accept Middle Eastern refugees.

Josiane Anthony and Daniel Tseghay say some African refugees spend years living in refugee camps

Migrants and refugees, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone, after being rescued at sea, wait to receive food on a German navy ship in September 2015. Advocates Daniel Tseghay and Josiane Anthony say African refugees are being forgotten by Canada. (AFP/Getty Images)

Two advocates for African refugees who are former refugees themselves say they don't want the plight of people like them forgotten because of the current crisis unfolding in the Middle East.

In a normal year, Canada accepts an average of 26,000 refugees from all over the world. This, of course, is not a normal year, with 25,000 refugees coming from the Middle East alone.

The fast-tracking of a single refugee group raises some concerns for Daniel Tseghay and Josiane Anthony, which they shared with On The Coast guest host Chris Brown.

"There has been a focus on, or privileging of, a very specific group of people — Syrians, whom I remain in absolute solidarity of," Tseghay, a former refugee from Eritrea, said. "There are also African refugees, and they need to be acknowledged as well."

Daniel Tseghay says African refugees have been actively excluded from Canada. (CBC)
Tseghay says African refugees, for years, have been actively excluded from Canada. He says this means African refugees spend years living in refugee camps or, alternately, trying to hire smugglers to cross the Sahara and then the Mediterranean, which can mean torture, sexual assault, or death from dehydration or drowning.

"If they even make it to Europe, a lot of the times they just get deported," he said.

'People just lose hope'

Languishing in a refugee camp is something Josiane Anthony has experienced first hand. Originally from Togo, she lived in a camp in Ghana for 15 years beginning when she was two years old.

Josiane Anthony lived in a camp in Ghana for 15 years beginning when she was two years old. (CBC)
"People just lose hope if you're there after five years … Imagine if you're a young person. You've gone to elementary school, gone to secondary school, gone to high school. You're like, I'm still here. Why is this happening?" she said.

Anthony still knows people in the refugee camp who are hearing about Syrians being fast-tracked to Canada. She says that has them asking, what's wrong with us?

Tseghay says this fast-tracking is building resentment among some African refugees towards the Canadian government.

"It doesn't matter which country is producing the largest number of refugees. This isn't 'first-past-the-post humanitarianism,'" Tseghay said.

"There are a lot of African nations producing a lot of refugees, and we need to be in solidarity with them as well."

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Refugees from Africa matter too, say refugees turned advocates