By Citizenship & Immigration Canada Reprinted from Citizenship & Immigration Canada's World Refugee Day – Stories project
Remzi Cej was 15 years old when he and his parents were forced out of war-torn Kosovo in 1999. They then spent over a year living in seven different refugee camps in Albania. Now, Remzi has become a Rhodes Scholar and is Chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.
It was a heart-breaking escape from Kosovo. His family began the long journey by walking toward the Albanian border, only to be turned back repeatedly by Serbian paramilitary forces. They walked more than 270 kilometres in a week, with thousands of others. Many were lost along the way. A year before their ordeal, Remzi’s brother had escaped to Turkey. They did not hear from him for years until a chance encounter with a journalist reunited the family.
Remzi says, “We came so close to losing our lives or disappearing the way many innocent people had. In that environment, you really appreciate the value of life and every moment with family. It’s a feeling I will never let go.”
Remzi’s family was selected for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When told that Canada had accepted them and that three families in a city called St. John’s wanted them to come there, he remembers thinking, “What kind of country must this be where total strangers want to welcome us to their community?”
Remzi has achieved what most can only dream of. He has a graduate degree from Oxford, speaks seven languages and has a world vision equaled only by his passion for human rights. He is dedicated to making a difference and has received numerous accolades for his efforts to date.
“The first sign of feeling like you belong is people you don’t know extending a helping hand when you need it. Thanks to our sponsors, I felt welcome from the very first moment my family came to this beautiful province. As I prepare to welcome a refugee I have co-sponsored to St. John’s, I’m pleased to be giving someone else who is fleeing persecution and violence an opportunity to belong to a community once again.”
• Original story