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To see through the eyes of a refugee

Having a home is more than just having a roof over your head, it is about being connected to a place and a community. For millions of refugees, that has all been taken away.

The war in Syria has created the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over four million Syrians being forced to leave their home.

Of those four million, around 40 percent are children.

Refugees are escaping violence and desperate living conditions, in communities where housing, food, water and health care are scarce. They usually leave with only the clothes on their back.

As Canadians, most of us can only imagine what it would be like to experience what refugees have been through. We have seen it on the front page of our local newspaper, on TV news and social media, and yet it’s still easy for us to detach.

But looking through the eyes of a refugee can completely change your view.

Canada’s unions have long been committed to defending human rights at home and internationally. They wanted Canadians to feel a deeper connection to the refugees we are welcoming, and to have a better understanding of their struggle.

That’s why they decided to stage a full, virtual reality experience of a refugee’s journey. Through this technology, people can walk in a refugee’s footsteps, beginning on a peaceful day that quickly turns into a crisis situation. In the experience, people bear witness to explosions and devastation, and travel with other refugees fleeing their homes and passing checkpoints on a harrowing journey to a refugee camp.

Escaping a war zone is where our virtual reality story ends, but for refugees, that is only just the beginning.

Once they have safely arrived in a new country, refugees face many challenges: finding a job, a place to live and learning the language.

Anti-refugee backlash and xenophobia can only be prevented through education and advocacy. Unions want Canadians to experience this virtual reality installation so we can all support refugees settling in our communities, with empathy, understanding and compassion.

All Canadians have a part to play to #welcomerefugees to our country.

In addition to staging this virtual reality experience, unions play an active role on the ground supporting refugees. In 2015, Canadian unions formed an unprecedented partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council for Refugees. The Canadian Labour Congress and its affiliated unions immediately began mobilizing local unions and labour councils to work with local United Way chapters, chambers of commerce, businesses and newcomer-serving organizations. A guide was produced to support local resettlement efforts, including suggestions for responding to anti-refugee backlash. Many unions have also sponsored families, and trained members to be resettlement volunteers.

Supporting refugees. For Canada’s unions, it’s a labour of love.

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