The tents set up in Riel Place at the University of Saskatchewan remind Lorot Michael of home.
The South Sudan refugee spent 20 years growing up in a refugee camp, several years of which were in an actual canvas tent. His family still lives there.
“We didn’t have good medical facilities, schools, no opportunities to go to college,” he said. “It’s survival. You don’t have anything. You just have what you have.”
His family fled South Sudan when Michael was two years old. Before coming to Canada to study, he never knew life outside the camp.
“You don’t get to know what is bad about it because that’s the only option,” he said.
Michael, 24, now a student at the U of S, is on hand as the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) hosts a mock refugee camp on campus. Until Friday, the public can walk through a three-tent makeshift camp including sleeping and school spaces, read information flyers and talk with WUSC volunteers.
“At this moment, it’s the best time we get to share our stories and talk one-on-one,” Michael said. “I just want people to understand the real stuff from us.”
Michael said, as a refugee, he has encountered prejudice and untrue stereotypes such as people saying refugees ruin the countries they flee too, take jobs and increase crime.
“Refugees basically just want to live. They want to have a place where they can restart from scratch, and they just want to feel like they’re at home again,” he said.
At the U of S, WUSC draws a $4 levy from students to sponsor student refugees.
The group’s display also draws attention to the ongoing Syrian refugee and migrant crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates more than three million Syrians have fled to the country’s immediate neighbours while more are determined to get to Europe.
While the migrant crisis in Europe has been grabbing headlines across the world, Kenya’s ongoing refugee situation seems to be forgotten.
Sudanese and Somalis fled from civil war in their homelands. More than 20 years later, many of them are stuck in the world’s largest refugee camp, and without any hope for the future.
Dadaab was set up as a temporary camp 20 years, but today it’s home to 300,000 people. It’s the biggest refugee camp in the world and one of Kenya’s largest cities.
Michael’s family had seven people in their small tent before moving to a semi-permanent makeshift home.
“They don’t feel like it’s less for them, they feel like it’s enough,” Michael said.
He hopes this week’s mock-camp will spur students to act to improve the lives of millions.