Freedom Runners

Mila Oz


It was 6:00 a.m. and I was standing in front of the big rocks that mark the border between Blaine, Washington and Surrey, B.C. Wearing my black and gray Skechers, I was about to step into a new life. As a nurse, you must trust your shoes not let you down during long working hours, so my comfortable “runners” were a good choice for this journey. But at that moment, they were not giving me the power to move when I needed it most. I started to think about what had brought me to this turning point. Time stood still and I saw all my memories, like scenes from a movie. 

In July 2016, I was working as a volunteer nurse in Somalia with a charitable organization called “Hizmet”, which means “service” in Turkish. I had come home to Turkey to attend my sister’s wedding. We were having a henna night, dancing, and having a great time, but we learned later that there had been a failed coup attempt that night. The Turkish government immediately accused the Hizmet movement of being involved. 

Hizmet is an international organization dedicated to advancing the culture of peace, human rights, and sustainable development. But in the new Turkey, we were considered terrorists. First, the government declared a state of emergency. More than 60,000 people were arrested, including teachers, doctors, judges, lawyers, and journalists. There was no evidence, just accusations. Human rights were trampled underfoot. It was now too dangerous for us to stay in Turkey. After a brief stay in Tanzania and the U.S., I decided to go to Canada. Now all I had to do was take a few more steps. 

I had seen borders only in movies, and the concept of refugees was something I had heard of only on the news. It wasn’t easy to be without a country, ostracized by your own people, wrongfully accused, and to lose everything. However, even though I was only 29 years old, I had already started from scratch three times, so I said to myself, “You can do it again.” I remembered my father’s last words to me before we parted ways: “Everything will be okay.” 

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and walked into Canada. Two kind officers came to meet me: one young, one older. I told them I wanted to apply for asylum. They put handcuffs on my wrists, shackles on my ankles and locked me in a cell. They also took the laces out of my shoes so that I couldn’t hurt myself. “I came here to live, not to die,” I screamed silently. I didn’t sleep my first night in Canada, I just cried. 

Everything comes with a price in life. The cost of freedom for me was being all alone. But when I was released the next day, the older police officer said, “Everything will be okay.” I felt my father with me at that point. 

Now, when I look at the past five years, I see that my father was right. I learned English, got a job, got married—my family hasn’t met my husband yet—and I started to study nursing again. I have met wonderful people here that have become like my family. But I still think about loved ones every day.  I was lucky to have the Skechers that brought me to a safe place, but thousands of others have had their shoes taken from them in prison. 

Beautiful people who are unfairly persecuted in my country, my story is for you: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” 

Mila Oz is from Turkey and has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. She worked in Somalia and Tanzania before coming to Canada in 2017. Recently, she started studying nursing again to follow her dreams.

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