Address by Gregory Fortuin International Refugee Day
International Refugee Day – Address by Gregory Fortuin (Wellington, Saturday 18 June 2016)
Celebrating Your Resilience, Hopes And Dreams - not the fact that you are a refugee
Fellow HUMAN BEINGS let me dispense with the protocols and ceremonial introductions as to pecking orders and who is more important than whom here today. As Fellow members of the human race, I greet your all as equals. To the 60 million Refugees (and I use that term in the broader sense of displaced people and people of concern) around the globe I say this is firstly a day of acknowledgment, compassion and concern. I don’t come to celebrate the fact that you are refugees, but I do celebrate your resilience, your journey through trauma and despair to keeping alive your hopes and your dreams. Instead of 1-day a year where we remember you, I wish you were in our hearts and minds every single day.
To the Red Cross and all the organisers, thank you, thank you. To one of the many champions of refugees across the globe who was callously gunned down and murdered in cold blood - To the late 41 year old Jo Cox - we remember your heart for refugees. We remember you and your family.
When you have walked the genocide sites of Rwanda and seen indescribable atrocities and abhorrent acts of man's inhumanity towards each other your compassionate heart screams a thousand screams. When you listen to the stories of the widows of the genocide you cannot comprehend how a husband could kill his own children and maim his own wife by amputating her limbs whilst trying to kill her. What you do know is that you should never ever presume that you know how these victims feel or even dare to speak for the victims - at best you speak as a concerned, compassionate supporter and advocate.
The plight of refugees is not a modern day phenomenon - to quote my friend Ron Nikkel, " From Cambodia's ghastly killing fields to the silent silhouette of horror of the Death-camp at Auschwitz, from the blood-soaked soil of brutality and massacre of my beloved Africa, to Asia and Latin America; from crime-ravaged urban streets to the dungeons of depraved justice; from the dispossessing stench of refugee camps around the globe to the garbage-dump villages of the Philippines; from cowering eyes of defenceless victims to the tyrannising stare of men possessed by power -- there is a cry for hope, a cry for help, a cry for a better life. That's the cry of the refugee.
And as you look around this room tonight we want refugees to know that we have heard your cry. That yes we have to do much more, but we are not deaf to your cries. We will continue to respond. From Munich in Germany to Mangere in New Zealand we are opening our hearts, our minds and our wallets. We stand beside you; we have our arms around you. You are in our hearts.
To those who question the values and motives of refugees we say, we hope you or your loved ones never experience the trauma of having had your family slaughtered as you flee to the supposed safety of a refugee camp. Hopefully you never experience the torture of not just being raped and molested by your guards but even trusted people within the camp as you fight for survival. And up to 15 years later when we get processed, some of us might have vacant stares piercing from our pained eyes, but we will never give up on being human. From our arrival in Aotearoa, we have shown respect for the first nation people as people of the land, because that’s who we are. We have not left behind our values of respect for family and others in the ghastly refugee camps or at the customs-gate. Never will we forget that we were all created equal – we hope you do the same.
So as I acknowledge my refugee brothers and sisters tonight I repeat that I cannot and dare not speak for the victims who either perished or survived. I will never know the deep wounds hidden behind those beautiful silenced faces. One does not restart one's life after an ordeal such as yours, but ONE MUST CONTINUE for the sake of our children and grandchildren. One can never turn back the clock, BUT ONE MUST HEAL THE WOUNDS. One can never reverse the torture and the killings, but one must rebuild ones family, one’s community, ones divided society.
Let us continue to Dream of a better life for all. It will never be easy, but whilst others curse at the dark, let us learn to light candles. Whilst others understandably bemoan their lot and wait for the storm to pass, let us learn to dance in the rain. Let us continue to join hands and keep hope alive.
Let every single refugee know that you are not alone.
Murakozi. God bless you.