My refugee neighbours

I haven’t seem many university dorms in my life, but judging by the ones I have already seen, I might say that the residences of UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal) are quite good. And there, for the past two weeks, the apartment 506 has become home for me and other two people who came to Montréal to study French for three weeks on a programme held by the university.

From here I could talk about how studying French at UQAM is nice, or also write endless lines to share how every single day in this amazing city has been unique, bringing me endless fun with memories that I will never forget. But maybe is better to put it aside, because something way more interesting than my elitist adventure is also happening here, in Montréal — to be more specific in the same building where I’m staying.

Since is summer break for university, all the students of UQAM are out of campus, which makes the residences empty. Few rooms are now being occupied by us, middle class students of French, who paid to stay here and join the summer course. But many other people staying here now, the majority to be precise, are asylum seekers.

The environment is very busy and it holds a mix of feelings on the faces of people who came from African or Middle West countries where war and poverty creates a scenario way too far from the cheerful Summer festivals that take all the streets around Montréal. In the corridors, lounge or elevators many langues get mixed, but but even though communication flows. Kids, from all nationalities, play together everywhere, transforming the building into a endless playground — they are the best in communication. Even with many mixed languages, all the games, fights and jokes work perfectly as if the use of the spoken words was just a luxury that we created at some point in our existence.

I see a lot of happiness, maybe because the ones here, mainly families, could escape all sort of nightmare that they suffered before landing in Canada, a country that in the last year accepted around 47.000 refugees coming from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Congo and Afghanistan. But also, I can see worried faces in the lobby, the only area with wi-fi available, where some people stick with their phones, probably waiting for news from those who were left behind.

I talked with some of them in French, some in English and even had the chance to find a family who could speak a bit of Portuguese because they tried asylum in Brasil as well. The kids are very complex, they are rebel, sometimes even not polite at all, but we also have kids that just cannot talk with no one, they keep themselves quiet staring nothing but the floor when they walk from their apartment to the lounge, where every day during lunch and dinner hundreds of plastic boxes with food are placed.

Last week when I was leaving my apartment I found some notice in the elevator. The notice says that the aid cheques for the refugees will be arriving this week, so they supposed to find somewhere to stay and leave the residences. Before even finishing to read it I felt so many mixed feelings, but when I went through the end of the message I found something that says: “We have to open space for the others who are also coming next and need help”. I shivered and my whole existence flashed inside my mind.

I’m writing this not to give some statement or find conclusions, but I would like to share this feeling that is so strong inside me and that somehow helped me to keep my awareness about how the world needs help and how we have to do something. I feel happy about how Canada is such a multicultural and open nation, and how I felt no sense of prejudice or even discussions connected with nationalities here. I hope that every single family that I’ve crossed here will find a brighter future, as I also hope to live in a world where all those wars and inequality will be extinguished forever.

M.