No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.
– Warsan Shire, Poet

Fleeing one’s home is not an action undertaken willingly, it is not a choice, it is not a life that a mother foresees for her children nor is it a life that one hopes or expects for themselves. No one flees their home if there’s peace.

Last week, I sat as panel speaker at the annual Canada-Europe Interparliamentary meeting on the Immigration and Refugee crisis. The panel, which focused on the landscape abroad and in Canada as it relates to asylum seekers, was attended by members of the Canadian and European government.

As a refugee myself, I understand firsthand the difficulty of those who come to Canada seeking a life free of persecution and violence. My family and I went from being Ugandans to stateless refugees overnight because the president of the time, Idi Amin, issued a decree that ordered the expulsion of over 80,000 South Asians from Uganda. As a result, we lost everything, our home, our belongings and our country and fled with only the clothes on our back.

We are faced with unprecedented statistics of displaced people around the world. More than 65 million people have been forced to leave their homes for safer land. This fact represents immeasurable human suffering but refugees are more than just numbers, they are people who have no choice but to leave their homes and everything they know in order to guarantee something that we often take for granted, our safety.

That is the reason why my message to the panel was that Canadians should not only welcome those who are out of options but integrate them into our communities.  We must commit to providing newcomers with resources to flourish and reach their potential. If we neglect this responsibility, we devalue the positive contributions that newcomers add to the Canadian identity.

As Canadians, we all have a role to play; we need to remain compassionate and understanding to the plight of those who come to our country. When we build walls – metaphorically or literally – asylum seekers suffer. As such, we only imprison ourselves.