For another year running, the McMaster Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union hosted the “Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee” charity event.

The event spanned all of last week from Nov. 14-18 to raise awareness and funds for the Assyrian refugees currently being marginalized in Iraq and Syria.

"There's a lot of people who don't wish to leave. We want to ensure for those who don't want to leave, a stable job, stable food, stable shelter and hope for the future as well"
Niven Dinkha
Sleeper for McMaster Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union 

The cornerstone of the event, standing in plain sight was the tent. Secured outside the McMaster Student Centre, the tent served to shelter volunteer “sleepers” over the week to symbolize and raise awareness for the Mesopotamian Refugees, specifically those who are Assyrian.

“The Assyrians are an ethnic and a Christian minority in [Mesopotamia], so they are affected much more disproportionately than the general population. So we started the event to raise awareness for what was happening and to also raise money to send overseas,” said Ashor Sworesho, a McMaster alumnus who helped start this event six years ago.

The plight of the internally displaced peoples in former Mesopotamia is directly related to the ongoing crisis caused by the Islamic State.

“ISIS went in, they put the letter Nūn on all the houses of the Christians. And that is a derogatory way of symbolizing Christians. You either have to leave, pay a heavy tax, convert, or they would kill you. [The refugees] were at the mercy of other people,” Sworesho explained.

For this year’s event, it seemed that the volunteers in the tent had to bear more than just the cold weather. The student group received a number of complaints from passing students. According to the volunteer sleepers, critical comments were primarily directed towards the unrealistic representation of refugee life.

“People will come by and they will say things like ‘I didn’t know that refugees had coffee’… We are trying our best to live like them, but this is pretend, this is convenient and this is so not what they are going through. For people to understand that, we are having a little bit of a harder time with that,” said Nivin Dinkha, one of the sleepers who volunteered for ACSSU.

While the “Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee” is not intended to be a replication the circumstances in the region, the student group certainly tried their best to convey their message.

“We didn’t eat, we didn’t drink. The only time we did was when it was donated to us,” said Dinkha. “This is to show that we were also at the mercy of others when it came to help. There’s only a limited number of things that we can do in our capacity that actually shows that we are living their life.”

ACSSU McMaster raises money through this event to help those currently overseas. This is done in partnership with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

“It’s been our land for thousands of years, and there’s a lot of people who don’t wish to leave. We want to ensure, for those who don’t want to leave, a stable job, stable food, stable shelter and hope for the future as well. [CNEWA] is project-based. They are creating initiatives, such as rebuilding, and creating community centres,” he added.

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