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Toronto ‘I am a refugee’: Amal Clooney talks jailed journalists, human rights and migrant crisis in Toronto

Amal Clooney attends the American Film Institute’s 46th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to George Clooney at Dolby Theatre on June 7, 2018, in Hollywood.

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

“The worst things happen in darkness,” Amal Clooney told a sold-out room at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall on Friday night.

The international human rights lawyer used her first public appearance in the city to bring awareness to several causes such as the current Syrian and Iraqi refugee crises, reporters who have been jailed around the world, and the separation of children from their families in the U.S., which has recently grabbed international headlines.

“Listening to audio recordings of these children … and the images of those children in cages, you cannot believe you’re talking about the United States of America,” Ms. Clooney said to her father-in-law, long-time journalist Nick Clooney, whom she was in conversation with at the event. At least 2,300 children have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border since May under the government’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

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Ms. Clooney said the separation of the children from their parents is immoral, constitutes child abuse, and violates international law. U.S. President Donald Trump has since signed an order to stop the separation of families, a move that Ms. Clooney said was possible in part due to the efforts of journalists and activists who raised attention to the issue.

Much of the conversation was also focused on reporters who have been jailed around the world. The cause has been the subject of much of Ms. Clooney’s work as a human rights lawyer. She previously represented Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who was jailed with his colleagues while working at the Al Jazeera English bureau in Cairo.

“I could immediately see the sham that was being brought against him,” Ms. Clooney said of the charges Mr. Fahmy faces, which included the “tarnishing of Egypt’s reputation” through his reporting. Mr. Fahmy was jailed for over a year, and was released after receiving a pardon from Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Ms. Clooney said Mr. Fahmy’s case was important to her as it had the potential to set a precedent for the treatment of reporters in the region, and was one that sent “shivers down the spine of every journalist in the Middle East.” She continues to represent journalists facing persecution, and spoke about her current work on the case of two jailed Reuters reporters in Myanmar.

The Lebanese-British lawyer also spoke of her personal connection to fleeing hardship, as her family left Lebanon when she was a toddler in the midst of turmoil. “I am a refugee,” Ms. Clooney told the Toronto crowd, and added she has been impressed with Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program, crediting it as an “amazing contribution.”

Ms. Clooney’s life has been well-documented in the spotlight as of late. She admitted her life has changed “dramatically” since her marriage to husband George Clooney. Yet, she maintains the spotlight has been beneficial when used to shed light on causes she feels are important. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” she said.

Also present at the event was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who gave opening remarks. Ms. Clooney’s visit to Toronto was part of the city’s Luminato International Arts Festival, and was in partnership with the Economic Club of Canada.

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