Dear Canadians, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Signing of the Master Agreement for the Sponsorship of Refugees.

I would like to thank my honourable colleague Senator Harder for his hard work in organizing the marking of this important anniversary.

I would also like to recognize the Right Honourable Joe Clark, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

Over the years, you have all extended a helpful hand to refugees who have lost everything, providing them with hope for a better tomorrow. Thank you for all that you have done, and all that you continue to do to support new Canadians.

Today, as we mark the signing of this important agreement, I stand before you with a heavy heart.

When my family and I sought refuge in Canada, we were welcomed with open arms. I am eternally grateful for the kindness and generosity extended to my family as we worked to make Canada our new home.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that this is not the Canada that I was welcomed into 47 years ago.

In fact, the way the Western world views refugees has dramatically changed over the years.

We once prided ourselves on being a country that was quick to open our hearts and our borders to those in need.

Today, we choose to turn a blind eye to the atrocities happening all around the world and we let the cries of vulnerable people whose lives are at risk on fall on deaf ears.

Last week, I came across an article written about Tareq Hadhad a one-time Syrian refugee whose family founded a famous chocolate company based in Nova Scotia. In the article Tareq states:

“Being a refugee is not a choice, it’s not a decision, it’s not a life goal. These people are fleeing their homes because of war, because of persecution”

I can assure you people only leave their countries when they are desperate. I know because I was one of them.

In 1972, when Idi Amin threw out Ugandan Asians we did not want to leave the only home we had ever known.

We fled Uganda because we had no choice.

There are millions of refugees that flee their countries to save the lives of their families.

They are forced to leave everything behind – their assets, their friends, their businesses and most importantly their homes.

Dear Canadians, when my family needed you, you were there. You didn’t see us as a burden. You didn’t question our motives.

As we mark the anniversary of this important agreement, I hope that you will open your hearts and your minds and stand up for the thousands of refugees who are fleeing persecution.

I hope that you will extend them every courtesy that you extended to my family and me.

I hope that you will remember that being a refugee is not a choice or a life goal.

It is a last resort for families who are fighting for their lives.

Thank you.