Thank you all for inviting me to speak.
Roxham Road is better know in Africa than it is in the United States.
I'm likely the last American these refugees meet on American soil as they continue this journey. I cannot walk in their shoes, but I can walk beside them. As these refugees lean into me whispering, “I am scared. I am running for my life. People are trying to kill me. I have no other options”, I listen attentively and I join in the last few steps of this journey.
Refugees arrive via taxis or private drivers and are sometimes on foot, in families, alone, in small groups or in van-loads of more than 15. Their looks of confusion, apprehension, fatigue or sadness—a vast array of emotions—are visible as they climb out of the taxis. Strangers help strangers with luggage. Children serve as interpreters for their parents. Mothers hand babies to teens or even to me, so they can get organized, and toddlers wander as toddlers do. It is a microcosm of humanity working together regardless of language, nationality or appearance, all under a cloud of fear as they see the RCMP waiting a few feet away.
For the majority of these refugees, their prior interactions with police officers have not been positive. I have seen people walk down the path with their hands in the air. Others have fallen to their knees with their hands raised in the snow. Some have said, “Arrest me; I have no other choice but to come here.” One woman from Turkey ran down the path, sobbing, right into the arms of the officer. He very quietly told her that this is Canada, that she doesn't need to cry and that she won't be harmed.
Allow me to share a couple of stories from Roxham Road with you.
Very recently, a car pulled in with Connecticut plates on it. The young man, all alone, asked me if this was where he could get into Canada. He said his plan was to leave the rental car, but he was very nervous. His hands were shaking and he had tears in his eyes. He wanted to know if the police would beat him or harm him in any way. I told him no.
As I spoke softly trying to calm him down, he explained that he was gay. He was disowned by his parents, fired from his job, and his choice right now was to leave or die. He would be stoned to death if he returned home, so he decided to try Roxham Road, but now he was terrified. I said to him, “Look at you. You did it. You're here with me. You're safe. You did it.” He smiled and said yes. After a few more minutes he walked away from the car and down the path.
On a frigid day last February, a large van arrived and out poured a dozen people. Among this group were two little girls, sisters, dressed in matching pink sweatsuits. Do you know how you dress your children up for a special occasion? These girls were ready for their new life in a new country in brand new clothes and they were shivering uncontrollably. It was about 5°F that morning. I had no children's coats with me, so I wrapped them in large, adult-sized jackets. They were so bulky the girls had trouble walking, but I put my arms around them and steered them toward the trail where they slowly walked into Canada.
Day after day, people from all around the world travel on Roxham Road seeking safety and a place to call home. Young men have hugged me, saying they left their mothers behind. There are old women all alone, a pregnant woman in labour, elderly men who can barely walk, strong mothers who will do anything to protect their kids, and then those precious children who have no choice in this journey.
One of those youngsters recently told me how much she liked the stuffed animal I had given her. She asked me how long she could keep it. I said that it was hers forever. As she skipped down the path into Canada, she turned around and said, “Thank you. See you later.”
Humans are naturally rooted to where we were born or have spent time. We need to feel that we belong. The writer Maya Angelou expressed it so well by saying, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Many times the refugees have told me that they did not want to leave home, but it was due to violence, drug cartels, threats of starvation, the effects of climate change, persecution for their sexuality or their religion, and protection of their daughters from FGM.
Humans have a strong will not only to survive but to thrive, a dream that most of us share regardless of where we were born. The ties that bind us together as humans are stronger than our differences. May each of us do what we can to help all of humanity find home.