TORONTO, September 6, 2022 — Shams Erfan, a 24-year-old Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, has been chosen as the 2022 PEN Writer-in-Residence at George Brown College.
Born and raised in the Jaghori district of Ghazni province, Erfan worked as an English teacher at a local school before fleeing Afghanistan in late 2014 following direct threats from the Taliban. During eight years in refugee camps in Indonesia, he taught English to fellow refugees and worked as a volunteer interpreter for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Eventually his writings about the harsh conditions within refugee camps and the precarious physical and mental state of many inmates brought Erfan to the attention of a Canadian family who sponsored his refugee application.
As an editor and writer for The Archipelago magazine, Erfan chronicled the neglect of refugees by the Indonesian authorities. He blogged anonymously about the lack of medical treatment and about several deaths by suicide. The work brought him into contact with Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian journalist and human rights defender who documented similar abuses at Manus Island Prison in his memoir No Friend But the Mountains.“ We need to discuss issues in the classroom that are not always easy or comfortable,” says Paula Applebaum, Professor and Liaison for the PEN Writer-in-Residence program, through the Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies. “By sharing his compelling story with students, Shams Erfan is building awareness of human rights issues and giving a voice to those who have been silenced. In this role, Erfan reinforces George Brown’s commitment to combating racism and promoting dialogue in a meaningful way.”
“Shams Erfan’s work forces us to think about the many vulnerable people who exist at the periphery of our daily lives,” said Grace Westcott, president of PEN Canada. “Countless individuals and, increasingly often, entire communities have been displaced by war, repression, and environmental crises. Erfan’s personal journey to this country and his remarkable success since arriving here are proof, were any needed, of the value of offering imperilled writers a safe haven in Canada.”
PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization that celebrates literature, fights censorship, defends persecuted writers and helps exiled writers to make new lives in Canada. In 2004 PEN launched a placement program for exiled writers in literary and academic communities across Canada. George Brown College has partnered with PEN Canada since then.
Toronto’s George Brown College has established a reputation for equipping students with the skills, industry experience and credentials to pursue the careers of their choice. The college offers programs from its three campuses located across the downtown core, and provides housing at its student residence, The George, which opened in September 2016. George Brown offers 162 full-time programs and 194 continuing education certificates/designations across a wide variety of professions to a student body of nearly 29,000 (full-time enrolment) students, including 17 per cent international students; and over 67,000 continuing education registrants. Students can earn certificates, diplomas, graduate certificates, apprenticeships and degrees. www.georgebrown.ca
Photo credit: Jon Jonaid