Exiled in Markham by Denis Taylor
Did you know that last month there was a refugee camp on the Ninth Line, as well as landmines and armed rebels?
Fifty-three high school age youths can tell you all about it. Having them experience the horrors of being stateless and exiled was part of the program, on Saturday, November 15th, at the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario annual meeting.
They were snug in their sleeping bags at Rouge Valley Mennonite Church when, well before sun-up, they were rudely wakened by shouts and loud whistles. Bleary-eyed, they were herded onto a bus and driven to the back of a local farm where they were ordered out and divided into two groups, then told to stand and wait.
One of the groups was soon picked up by a smuggler (me), who offered to lead them to a refugee camp, for a bribe of a watch or two. Off we trudged through the muddy fields. Over the next five hours we experienced what many exiles live with day in and day out.
While skirting around a mine field a woman came screaming towards us imploring us to help her and her mother, who had been badly wounded by a landmine. We couldn’t stop to help; we had to reach the refugee camp today. The victim would slow us down and looked like she would probably die anyway.
Next we were forced to stop at an army checkpoint and made to lie face down in the mud while our papers were scrutinized, questions asked and bribes demanded. We lay there for another fifteen minutes then let go at the soldier’s discretion. On we marched.
After crossing a swollen creek and travelling through some woods we were accosted by a small band of armed rebels. Again we were made to lie in the mud while they rummaged through our bags and took our remaining valuables. Our coats and shoes were taken off and strewn about. All through this ordeal we were yelled at and threatened.
After the rebels ran off we regrouped and proceeded to the border crossing, where we were separated into two groups, men and women. Again we were interrogated, “Who are you? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Why do you want to enter this country? What are you going to do here, how will you live? Are you a terrorist?” The questions yelled at us were not always in languages we understood. Their contempt for us was obvious. Many of us had had our papers stolen. Men with papers and their families were the first to cross, and some were arbitrarily turned away.
At last we trudged into the refugee camp, again lining up, showing what documents we had and having to explain and justify ourselves all over again. Finally some food - a small cup of rice and lentils.
We lived it for a day and gained some insight of the life of a refugee, right on the Ninth Line.
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