In collaboration with the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), the Martlet presents Stories Without Borders, a new feature telling the stories of students who have come to UVic through the Student Refugee Program (SRP). By sharing the stories of these students, we hope to dispel myths about newcomers and the newcomer experience. In the interest of protecting these students and their families, the students’ names have been changed.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Could you introduce yourself?
I’m Hazem. I’m from Sudan — well, actually now it’s North Sudan because it used to be a whole country but it got separated. I’m from Darfur. So I was born in Darfur, [and] I was basically raised there until [I was] 13 years old, until the war started in 200. I moved from Darfur to the main city, which is Khartoum, I remember, in 2004. The main reason that I moved was [for] school, and to live a different life.
So basically, growing up in Darfur during the wartime, that was so hard . . . The War of Darfur is between the Arab tribe and the African tribes. And [my family and I] share both from the same tribes. So we’re the ones who got hurt most in this war, because the Arabs are our family and Africans are our family. So it’s so messed up.
I moved to Khartoum in 2004, and that’s where I went for high school over there. I went to school, went to college, [and studied] computer science until my third year, but I just couldn’t finish it due to financial discrimination problems.
And then, 2013, that’s when I decided to flee the country, and I went to Jordan. Most of the Darfurians, when they go to Jordan, they go seeking asylum. I didn’t go there for that. I just went to work and to live a better life in Jordan. So in Jordan, I did apply for [refugee status], but I never actually got an interview with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to be recognized as a refugee, because I wasn’t looking much for that anyways. Because I know that the UN, in Jordan, they don’t actually care about African refugees.
So, to be honest, the hardest life that I’ve lived was in Jordan. Seriously, it was so hard over there. Because we had Sudanese communities over there, when we were registering for the UN, we were not [being treated equally to] Syrian or Iraqi refugees. We didn’t have any social services or school or medical or health [services]. We were basically neglected, so it was very difficult.
And plus, we didn’t have any work permits to work in Jordan, so the hardest part was working illegally. Sometimes when the employers know that you’re a refugee and you don’t have a work permit . . . they won’t pay you your money because you can’t go to the police because you don’t have any right to work. So it was a real struggle over there.
What are you studying at UVic?
Right now, I’m still in first-year general science. What I’m planning to study is human sciences with a major in health information in computer science.
Would you like to share why you chose to study this subject?
That’s a good question. Computer science is what I love and what I’m good at. And the reason why I chose public admin was [because] my plan in the future is [to] go back and try to help my community in some sort of way. So studying public admin will hopefully let me work with an NGO or something like that, or someday help me make my own organization, because I really need to pay back my community.
How would you to respond to any misunderstandings or misconceptions about your country of origin?
The most common stereotype I’m hearing about Sudan is that we’re called Afro-Arabs. We’re not fully Arabs, we’re not fully Africans, so we are just called Afro-Arabs; we have an identity problem and we’re not accepted in both communities.
What truths would you want the UVic student body to know about your country of origin?
Awareness. They should know there is something that happened. The war in Darfur, this has been since like, 2003, and as far as I know, it’s one of the biggest genocides that’s ever happened. And people are actually dying every day. The media doesn’t reflect our world. I guess we’re not sensational enough for the media, I don’t get it, but what I want is for people to actually know what’s going on. Refugees are not only in the Middle East or Syria; they’re in a lot of places around the world that need to be recognized.
What are two positive experiences you’ve had in coming to UVic as a student?
First, I feel like I have a second chance, you know what I mean? Right now, being here on campus, being at UVic, I actually know what I’m doing. Way back, I didn’t know. “What am I doing tomorrow? In five years?” It’s hard to plan. But right now, being here, I know what I want. I’m planning and I feel like I’m going to do something. Everything is available here and everything is so easy — it’s challenging, but yeah.
Another positive experience coming to UVic : the professors here, the instructors, comparing them back to where I used to go to school, to Sudan, they’re so different. It’s not just instructors. Here, I feel like everybody is trying to support you. You feel so supported all the time, you feel encouraged.
What are two pieces of advice you would give to newcomers coming to UVic to study?
Number one, English. It’s really important to learn English and to really focus on the language here. Because miscommunications sometimes here can be so hectic. So just really focus on their English, especially in academics, because here it’s so different.
Always ask for help; don’t try to figure it out by yourself. Especially the first term. If you’re facing a problem, you should go ask.
What is your favourite memory on campus (if you have one)?
You know this game in the Harry Potter movie, what is it called, Quidditch? I remember one day, I was in the library and I wanted to go to University Centre so I was passing [the quad] and there were actually people there playing Quidditch in real life. [Laughter] It doesn’t make any sense. I’m just sitting and laughing, like, how can they play Quidditch in real life? That’s my best memory. [More laughter]
What is one of your favourite dishes from your country of origin?
My favourite dish from my country of origin is called asida — it’s a sort of porridge. It’s a kind of porridge; I don’t know the recipe actually. You only find it in Sudan. They cook it with chicken. So like a porridge-chicken dish. It’s so weird, actually. But yeah, that’s my favourite dish.
What is an interesting cultural difference between your country of origin and Canada?
I think Canadians are polite. [Laughter] And in our culture, well, we used to be polite too, but I guess after the war, the war changed people. You’re familiar with IDP – internally displaced persons? Well, just being a refugee in your own country, that changed people.
What is a sport you enjoy playing and have you found a way of continuing to engage in that sport in Victoria?
Well, basketball, that’s what I enjoy. But it’s too bad I’m not doing it here.
Where is your favourite spot to hang out in Victoria?
Square Centre? I always get it wrong; I just call it Square Centre.
Yeah, Centennial Square. That’s my favourite spot, with the water fountain. It’s just so peaceful and quiet over there. And I enjoy sitting there.
Have you joined any clubs at UVic and are there any clubs that you would like to join?
I’ve joined WUSC and the Chess Club — we meet every Friday and we play two or three games of chess.
And dragon boats. I was actually supposed to join that club last fall, but it was cold. The ocean was cold! So I’m waiting until probably the summer until the water gets more warm and then I guess I’ll try it out.