Eritrean Refugee Advocacy Letter-Writing Campaign Underway at OLOL

Eritrean-Canadian students from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School have started a letter writing campaign to politicians advocating for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

The students have drafted and translated letters into Tigrinya, created educational videos for the student community, and helped collate and distribute 4000 letters and envelopes intended to be sent to politicians locally, provincially and federally sharing information about the ongoing situation for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

The idea came when three students, Feven, Ezer and Lamiek, approached Multilingual Resource Teacher Julie Flaherty and asked what the school could do to help Eritrean refugees. The students were quite concerned about the safety and well-being of these refugees and were anxious to lend support. Julie reached out to Chaplain Krista Nolan and together they began to brainstorm some ways the school might help. The campaign is directed towards the Canadian government and asks them to use their diplomatic ties with Ethiopia to pressure the Ethiopian government to address the needs of the Eritrean refugees.

Through some research, the educators connected with Anna Triandafyllidou, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Toronto Metropolitan University. In this meeting, they were advised to direct their efforts towards Eritrean refugees before they travelled to Libya by advocating for refugees who were in camps in Ethiopia.

Starting with their school community, each student and staff member at OLOL were invited to sign six letters during homeroom last Friday.

“We are inviting anyone who is interested to sign and send our letter. We are sending our letters to Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, as well as: Melanie Joly, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs; Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship; Harjit Sajjan, Minister of International Development; Michael Chong, Member of Parliament for Wellington-Halton; and Lloyd Longfield, Member of Parliament for Guelph,” said Krista Nolan, teacher Chaplain. “Therefore, each person is invited to sign six copies of the letter, which will be mailed to these 6 recipients, in order to reach as many change-makers as possible and stress the urgency of the situation. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the school letter can go to the Our Lady of Lourdes website. Letters can be mailed by individuals themselves (no postage is required to send mail to the Canadian Government) or dropped off to the school to be mailed.”

Creating awareness and advocating for change was especially important for a number of students within the school community who have lived experience within the refugee camps.

“We have many Eritrean-Canadian students in our school. Many have lived in refugee camps themselves, and the current refugees in the Ethiopian camps are their friends, family and neighbours. Many students have personal knowledge of the harsh realities of forced migration and express profound gratitude for the freedoms they now enjoy in Canada,” said Nolan.

 “The students in our group are moved with compassion and a youthful energy and desire to make a positive difference in our world. In this project, they are doing just that,” Flaherty added.

The campaign has provided a platform for students to educate friends, family and wider community about the ongoing situation for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

“It is a gift and a blessing to walk with and support our students as they strive to advocate for those in need and address important social justice issues in our world. It’s exciting to see them bring their initiative to fruition,” said Flaherty. “We thank all who will participate in this letter-writing refugee advocacy campaign! We pray that each of our efforts will be received with openness and sincerity by our Canadian government and that together, we can make a positive difference in the lives of Eritrean refugees in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.”

While the student’s letter-signing day has now passed, they invite the community to join in on their campaign throughout the month of May by using the draft letters found here: