‘Not in my wildest dreams’: Refugee Jaivet Ealom on his journey to become a U of T grad

A member of the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar, Jaivet Ealom fled the country in 2013 and travelled across three continents in search of asylum – surviving a near-drowning and several detentions along the way
Jaivet Ealom stands in front of Convocation Hall after his graduation ceremony

Jaivet Ealom, who arrived in Canada in 2017 after fleeing Myanmar four years earlier, stands in front of U of T’s Convocation Hall (photo by Lisa Lightbourn)

As a teenager in Myanmar, Jaivet Ealom says he could hardly have imagined one day graduating from the University of Toronto with a double major in economics and political science.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he says, noting that he’s now taking steps “to bring everything I’ve gained and learned” to help others who are suffering around the world.

Ealom’s incredible journey to U of T’s Convocation Hall began in 2013 with a harrowing escape from the Southeast Asian country where, as a member of the persecuted Rohingya minority, he faced systemic discrimination and was denied citizenship rights.

He left everything he knew behind, travelling through six countries and across three continents in search of asylum – and surviving a near-drowning and multiple detentions along the way.

Jaivet waves to the camera before entering Convocation Hall
(photo by Lisa Lighbourn)

Arriving in Canada in 2017, Ealom later began studies in U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science as a member of University College. He also co-founded the Rohingya Centre of Canada and a refugee-focused non-profit called Northern Lights Canada, is a member of the Refugee Advisory Network of Canada and has attended forums for the UN Refugee Agency on resettlement.

Amid his advocacy work, he also found time to write his first book: Escape from Manus Prison: One Man’s Daring Quest for Freedom, detailing his triumphant journey.

As he crossed the stage inside Convocation Hall last week, Ealom says a sense of relief washed over him – the closing of one chapter and beginning of another.

He says his time at U of T has helped him make sense of his tumultuous journey – and define his goals for the future.

“I only understood the symptoms of the problem because I have been the one on the suffering side,” Ealom says, adding that he initially viewed the issue purely as a humanitarian one.

“Academia helped me understand that it’s also a political problem and the refugees are a result of policies and discriminatory law.”

Jaivet crosses the stage during convocation
(photo by Lisa Lightbourn)

After graduation, Ealom plans to dive into his policy work and advocate for representation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s politics following decades of persecution and disfranchisement.  

He is currently working with a group of about 40 to form the Rohingya Consultative Council, which is hoping to feed into the National Unity Consultative Council – an advisory body to the National Unity Government of Myanmar.

“The Rohingya are the only group who don’t have a representative body there,” says Ealom, adding that through the Rohingya Consultative Council he hopes to achieve two goals: have a seat at the table; and define and build capacity for who sits in that seat.

He says he feels a sense of responsibility to use his privilege – and his U of T education – to do what other members of his community may not be able to do on their own: achieve equality and justice for the Rohingya community in Myanmar.  


Read more about Jaivet Ealom in U of T Magazine


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