A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) explores the global refugee crisis through the eyes of two teenage boys – a 13-year-old Syrian who survived a perilous voyage across the Mediterranean and a 15-year-old boy in Spain who felt compelled to respond.
Seeking Refuge is centred on a work of art created by 15-year-old Achilleas Souras from lifejackets left on the beaches of the Greek island of Lesbos by thousands of migrants and refugees. Resembling a domed-shaped shelter that people can crawl inside, his structures have been attracting attention from all over the world.
The installation is brought to life by two emotive videos. One shows Souras assembling his lifejacket dome and sharing his concerns about refugees. The other, filmed by UNICEF in Lesbos, features 13-year-old Mustafa Al Said, who describes fleeing war across a dangerous sea, along with his hopes, fears and homesickness. Abandoned lifejackets – now a pervasive symbol of the danger facing millions of global refugees – are visible in both films, linking the stories of two teenagers and their common humanity.
"The exhibit builds awareness of an important and current human rights issue—and also shows us the power of youth to effect change," curator Isabelle Masson said. "It's a call to action—not only for young audiences but also for visitors of all ages."
An accompanying exhibit in the Museum's Rights Today gallery encourages thought and conversation about asylum seekers in Canada. Seeking Safety was researched by the CMHR, working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Canada. It explores, through video, images and documents, the stories of people who have come to Canada looking for protection.
Mohammed Alsaleh was among 25,000 Syrians accepted as refugees to Canada in 2015–16. Eddy Ramirez was a student in Montréal when the political climate in Venezuela became too dangerous for her to return. A video interview with University of Manitoba law professor Shauna Labman breaks down common misconceptions surrounding the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers. The journey of those who cross into Canada by foot is also depicted through photographs.
"This exhibit helps clarify misconceptions about people who cross the border to seek asylum in Canada," curator Armando Perla said. "Who is an asylum seeker, who is a refugee, and what is the difference?"
Seeking Refuge runs at the CMHR until August 2018; Seeking Safety continues until October 2018.