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Thursday, 07 April 2016 13:17

Sajjan Launches Defence Policy Review

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by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan yesterday launched the Liberal government’s Defence Policy Review, including the appointment of four prominent foreign affairs and defence experts to advise him on shaping the direction of the new government’s defence policy.

In a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa, Sajjan pledged to listen to the different perspectives and views that will emerge from Canadians, allies and advisors in the first review of Canada’s military policy in nearly two decades.

In particular, four names will carry special weight as part of Sajjan’s advisory council: former Supreme Court justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former foreign affairs and defence minister Bill Graham, former Chief of the Defence Staff retired Gen. Ray Henault and Margaret Purdy, former deputy secretary to the Cabinet (Security and Intelligence) in the Privy Council Office.

“My goal is to establish a renewed vision for our military that will be nested in our foreign policy,” said Sajjan. “The role of this panel will be to provide me with the insight and perspective that comes from their many years of experience.”

All four have been appointed by the Privy Council Office but Sajjan did not say how much they are being paid for their insight, nor did he provide a total budget for the defence policy review.

The government is preparing to ramp up on two other high-profile policy reviews of its cyber preparedness as well as its international aid priorities, and demonstrated during its integrated roll-out of the adjusted mission against ISIS that it views issues such as defence, security, foreign affairs and international development to be interconnected.

However, while Sajjan said the teams at Public Safety and International Development work closely together, he did not say whether there would be any kind of an official liaison working between the departments as they launch their reviews.

Sajjan said earlier this year that he planned to have the defence policy review finished by the end of the year and said Wednesday that public consultations will wrap up July 31.

The government has launched a web portal to allow Canadians to submit their feedback for the review, and will hold six stakeholder roundtables in Toronto, Vancouver, Yellowknife, Edmonton, Montreal, and Halifax before the end of July.

The first of those will take place April 27 in Vancouver.


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City, with files from Jonathan Hiltz

A proposed plan to track the admission categories of immigrants who respond to Canada’s newly reinstated long-form census could help fill gaps of information about Canada’s newcomers.

Current admission categories refer to programs under which immigrants are granted permanent residency, such as family reunification, refugees and economic classes.

“These admission categories are from IRCC [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada], and are not well-known by the immigrants themselves, particularly for those who were granted permanent residency decades ago or as children,” explains François Nault, director of the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

“It’s very hard to ask on a survey or let alone on a census, ‘Under what admission category were you granted permanent residency in Canada?’” he continues.

Nault says StatsCan is exploring the possibility of linking immigrant respondents to their IRCC admission files, building on work that was done to make these same sorts of connections with the 2011 National Household Survey.

“We have a whole process to put in place and to test, but if all goes well, we're confident about the quality of the data that will become available,” he says.

Improving information sharing

Nault says that knowledge of immigrant respondents’ admission categories not only provides information on how many people are in Canada under each group, but that this information can be used with other census data for policy and program analysis.

“It gives us their level of education, their knowledge of French and English, their employment status, their revenue. So all this information we get in the census, everyone will now be able to analyze according to how immigrants were granted permanent residency in Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We're confident about the quality of the data that will become available."[/quote]

Researchers and those who provide services to newcomers say they're eager to receive the 2016 census data to fill in the knowledge gap they incurred when the mandatory long-from census was replaced with the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) in 2010. The Conservative Government said it made the change to protect privacy and reduce penalties for failing to complete the mandatory questionnaire.

Shortly after being elected last year, the Liberal Government announced it would reinstate the mandatory long-form census

“The government is responding to calls from citizens, businesses, municipalities, not-for-profit organizations and researchers for high quality information to support decision making,” says Marc Hamel, director general of the Census Program at Statistics Canada.

The long-form census and the NHS

The elimination of the census was criticized by settlement organizations and researchers, who predicted that immigrants, who typically do not respond to surveys, would not feel obliged to complete the NHS. They were concerned that this would create a gap in knowledge about immigrants and the services they need in some communities.

“We know that people without official languages, the poor and the rich, all had lower response rates for the NHS,” says Dan Hiebert, a professor who studies international migration at the University of British Columbia. Along with language barriers, immigrants may not understand why the information is being collected and how it will be shared. 

According to StatsCan, the 2011 NHS got a response rate of 68.6 per cent, compared to a 94 per cent response rate for the 2006 mandatory census. The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants said the results, released in 2013, do not reflect a true picture of immigration in Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The elimination of the census was criticized by settlement organizations and researchers, who predicted that immigrants would not feel obliged to complete the NHS.[/quote]

“By implementing the voluntary NHS, the Conservative Government created a gap in our knowledge of what challenges new immigrants face in their economic and social integration,” says Ather Akbari, chair of Atlantic Research Group on Economics of Immigration, Aging and Diversity at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S. 

He adds that the knowledge gap makes it hard to compare information gathered from the NHS to previous census results. 

“My recent research investigates economic integration of immigrants in smaller areas of Canada, such as in Atlantic provinces and urban and rural centres of Atlantic Canada,” he says. “Because the NHS was a voluntary survey and response rates from smaller areas is generally lower, it affects the reliability of results of any evidence-based results focusing on smaller areas."

Filling the knowledge gap

Big cities also rely on census data to track the economic integration of recent immigrants.

Susan Liu Woronko, manager of Employment Services at DIVERSEcity, a non-profit agency servicing culturally diverse communities in Surrey, B.C., says the city is growing at a rate of 1,000 new residents every month, based on the municipality’s past estimates.

“After collection and analysis, the picture could be very different,” she says. “The timeliness, or the lack of, is an issue for a fast-growing city like Surrey.” 

Liu Woronko says she works with local business operators who are looking to tap into the newcomers’ talent pool to solve their skilled-labour shortage. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The timeliness, or the lack of, is an issue for a fast-growing city like Surrey.”[/quote]

“The census data is very important to these employers, as they plan how to market their products and where they may find their next employee,” she says. “This business-intelligence related info is also important for me, so I can best advise newcomers of up-and-coming sectors where opportunities exist.”

Organizations like Liu Woronko's have come to rely on IRCC for more up-to-date immigration data.

“With a real census . . . we [can] now look back and judge the quality of the NHS,” says Hiebert. “Do we throw away those data or are they still useful, and what happened in the past few years?”

StatsCan will send the 2016 census packages to every household starting in May, which can be completed on paper or online. 

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by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

It had been such a whirlwind process, Zuhir says of the journey that he and his family took earlier this year from Jordan — where they had lived as refugees for four years — to Canada.

Now that they’re here, Zuhir and his family are one of many that have yet to settle into a normal life in Canada. For now, they remain in a state of limbo, residing at the Toronto Plaza Hotel home and unsure of their next steps in the country.

The Syrian family of seven had been given a month’s notice by the Canadian government to settle their affairs in Jordan. They had no time to even sell their furniture, only to pack their things and leave.

But he has no regrets, says Zuhir, speaking through a translator. 

“Once it happens, you don’t want to lose your chance,” he says. “I’d rather lose the furniture than lose the chance to go to Canada.” 

But the haste in which they left also meant that there was no opportunity for an in-depth orientation on life in Canada, he says. 

He was told to expect a two-week stay at a hotel in Toronto. It’s now been about a month and a half, and they’re still unaware of when they might finally find a place to call their own.

Life at the hotel

Large families like Zuhir’s run into more difficulty when persuading landlords to take them on, explains Abubaker Bennsir, who works at the TARIC Islamic Centre

Settlement groups like COSTI Immigrant Services are currently overwhelmed with cases, which hobbles its ability to help refugees like Zuhir not only find permanent housing, but navigate their new country. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I’d rather lose the furniture than lose the chance to go to Canada.”[/quote]

Fortunately, TARIC, a convenient three-minute walk from Zuhir’s hotel, extended its community programming this year to help integrate Syrian refugees. It has opened its gym for the children to play soccer in and has held dinners and informal sessions on language training and Canadian culture. 

For Zuhir and his friend Diab-Bakora, visits to TARIC break up the routine of roaming the hotel. “It’s [usually] the restaurant, room and lobby,” says Zuhir, speaking of the places he visits on an average day.

As frustrated as they are that they haven’t quite settled yet, Diab-Bakora says the refugees are fortunate that the hotel is surrounded by a complex of shops, fast-food restaurants and a grocery store. There have also been organized trips to Harbourfront Centre and the Ontario Science Centre.

Experiencing the local community

When families meet with Dr. Paul Caulford, medical director of the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CRIHC), he advises them to seek out opportunities to get to know the city. 

Caulford says it can help them cope with the uncertainty of adjusting to an unfamiliar place. “I [tell them, I] want you out and about,” he says. “We’re trying to get them exercising, get them out.” 

Since they can’t just hop on the bus or subway in a city which they hardly know and whose language they can’t speak, the Islamic centre pairs families with mentors who help them understand how things work. They’re taught how to take public transit, go to a bank and shop at supermarkets, says Haroon Salamat, chairman of TARIC. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For Zuhir and his friend Diab-Bakora, visits to TARIC break up the routine of roaming the hotel.[/quote]

There are other practical lessons. For instance, the children have had to learn that garbage is tossed in the can, not on the floor, says Salamat: “We’re using this opportunity to sensitize them to Canadian customs.”

Support from the mosque — which also welcomes Syrian Christian refugees — has given families “a level of comfort” and it has done much to boost their spirits, says Bennsir. 

“They thought they would be somewhere where nobody would understand them,” he comments. 

The centre has helped act as their translators and interlocutor. It has tried, for instance, to get the kitchen to prepare food that reminded the children of home. Some refugees have volunteered to cook occasionally, but staff had to politely decline because of health and safety considerations. 

Taking steps towards integration

Although most have not been vocal in their complaints, Salamat can sense that many refugees are anxious about moving forward, and the children are eager to enrol in school. 

Zuhir's and Diab-Bakora’s children attend a school nearby, but they say they’re not formally integrated and that the school is more like a daycare because it doesn’t offer ESL training. 

Diab-Bakora is hopeful that once they secure housing, schooling won’t be an issue.

For children who have to overcome trauma, getting them back to school is the best approach to managing their PTSD, says Caulford. He’s met with a six-year-old boy who has been unable to speak since he witnessed the killing of his uncle in Syria. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Salamat can sense that many refugees are anxious about moving forward.[/quote]

“[The way] to get the boy talking is to throw him [in] with a group of his peers in a classroom,” says Caulford. “That hasn’t happened yet for four weeks now. We’re frustrated with that.”

While many adults are still reluctant to confront the trauma they’ve endured by opening up to a counsellor or seeking treatment, Caulford notes that they’re much more willing to avail of the special clinic for their children. 

“They don’t want to get bogged down. They’re focused on getting food on the table,” he says. “It’s a defence mechanism. If we were to encourage [them] to come out now, we could really hobble their progress. They would start becoming more depressed.” 

In the meantime, places like the Islamic centre are focusing their efforts on providing another refuge for the Syrians while they wait.  

“The kids play a bit of soccer. We’re teaching them a few words in English,” Salamat says. “It keeps the kids out of mischief and running around aimlessly. We want them to feel that things are moving along.”

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by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Canada’s use of both government and private sponsors to help Syrian refugees resettle is a model that should be exported around the world, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.

Canada was the first of what’s still only a handful of states which allow private groups to take on the costs and obligations associated with refugee resettlement and it’s an approach that ought to be tried elsewhere as the flow of displaced people from the Syrian civil war and other conflicts continues, Filippo Grandi said.

“It adds more places for resettlement, but it also contributes to create this sense in civil society that it is a positive thing to do,” Grandi said of the private sponsorship program in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Committed to the idea of refugees

He spoke ahead of a day of meetings with senior government officials, including Immigration Minister John McCallum, who will be a keynote speaker at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ summit on the Syrian crisis in Geneva next week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Grandi is asking states to take in about 10 per cent of the estimated 4.2 million people who’ve become refugees from the Syrian civil war.[/quote]

Grandi is asking states to take in about 10 per cent of the estimated 4.2 million people who’ve become refugees from the Syrian civil war.

The Liberal government had committed to taking in 25,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of this year and have about 8,000 more to go towards that goal. But they have not set a firm number for how many Syrians they will admit through the private system. The total refugee settlement target for this year — from all countries — is 44,800.

McCallum had previously said Canada could absorb between 35,000 and 50,000 Syrians, but wouldn’t say Monday whether those numbers will resurface in his speech next week.

“You won’t hear a number from me today,” he said. “As our behaviour suggests, we are committed to the idea of refugees.”

McCallum said he agrees the private sponsor program is worth looking at for other countries, noting it would help take some of the pressure off European states teeming with asylum-seekers. Canada is already working with Brazil to set up a program there.

Leadership creates solidarity, not fear

Under the Liberal program to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of last month, about 8,976 were privately sponsored and a further 2,225 were sponsored by a program that blends private and government support.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging other countries to increase their resettlement efforts.[/quote]

The private sponsorship program largely began with the intake of refugees from Vietnam in 1979. In order to admit more people, the government committed to matching numbers sponsored by private groups, mostly churches. By the end of 1980, Canada had accepted 60,000 refugees.

Studies suggest long-term outcomes for privately sponsored refugees are often better than government-assisted ones, in part because of the strong community support. But there are also demographic differences.

Early analysis of Syrians who have arrived in Canada show, for example, that 70 per cent of government-assisted refugees don’t speak English or French, compared to only 37 per cent of the privately sponsored.

Grandi said Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging other countries to increase their resettlement efforts, as it was mostly leadership that set the tone in Canada for such a swift response to the Syrian crisis last fall.

Leadership created not fear, but solidarity, he said.

“This is what I am saying to European leaders,” he said.

“It is true that some people are afraid here as well, but as everywhere you have people that are supportive and people that are more timid in this and I think leaders should utilize the good forces to create a positive environment. This was done here, there is no doubt.”


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca. 

by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver

Five months after Harper’s Conservatives made a pre-elections pledge to establish a controversial "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, a group of lawyers and legal organizations in Vancouver have launched a different kind of phone line — a hotline offering free legal advice for victims of Islamophobia.

“The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline is a free and confidential number that people who experience Islamophobia, or hate crimes related to Islamophobia — whether you’re Muslim or perceived to be Muslim — can call,” explains lawyer and activist Hasan Alam.

The concept for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline, launched on March 9, emerged from what a group of local lawyers observed as a “significant increase” in Islamophobia in Canada.

Alam defined Islamophobia as, “the fear of and hatred toward Muslims or people who are perceived to be Muslim.”

“Especially under the Harper government,” says Alam, “we noticed that there was very specific fear mongering happening, that utilized Islamophobia to justify Harper’s policies, such as Bill C-51, and all of that translated into an increase in hate crimes.”

In response to a question on the anti-terrorism legislation, Harper implied last fall there was an opportunity for radicalization in mosques: "It doesn't matter what the age of the person is, or whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else."  

The statement was followed by an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric leading up to the elections, with the niqab being lauded by the former Prime Minister as a primary concern in relation to gender equality and Canadian values.

Rise in incidences of violence

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a human rights and civil liberties advocacy group that endorsed the project, has been tracking anti-Muslim incidents across Canada since 2013. They have recorded a rise in alleged incidents corresponding to events where Muslims have been portrayed negatively in the media.

Vancouver-based lawyer and chair of NCCM’s Board of Directors, Kashif Ahmed, spoke to the significance of this new resource in B.C.: “We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015, and already had 12 reported in 2016.”

Ahmed identified a number of different forms of Islamophobia-related hate crimes, including “cases of people who are being assaulted on the street, victimized in their workplace and denied promotions, verbally abused, verbally harassed, mosques being vandalized, cases of schools not providing anti-bullying services to Muslim students or allowing bullying to continue, or even teachers being the ones doing the bullying.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We had 61 anti-Muslim incidents reported in 2015."[/quote]

Local incidents include a pepper spray attack on a group of Syrian refugees and vandalism of a Coquitlam mosque, yet many attacks motivated by Islamophobia go unreported.

The hotline is operated by Access Pro Bono, an organization committed to providing “access to justice” in BC for individuals and non-profits unable to afford legal fees. Their volunteers are currently able to assist callers in seven different languages — English, French, Farsi, Indonesian, Arabic, Swahili, Punjabi, and Urdu.

“In a lot of instances people who experience Islamophobia are new immigrants, they don’t speak much English, they don’t know where to turn to for legal advice, or help in general, and they’re scared to turn to law enforcement agencies a lot of the time because of their precarious legal status,” says Alam.  

Personal experiences of Islamophobia

Alam has a personal investment in the initiative, as a Muslim and a lawyer who has actively advocated against Islamophobia.

“I get calls from people, a lot, saying that they have experienced Islamophobia, and that they need help. Oftentimes, I myself can’t help them. I don’t have the area of expertise in that specific instance that I can give them legal advice,” he explains.

Alam spoke to the first time he experienced Islamophobia himself.

“I remember being the president of my Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Simon Fraser University, and getting a call from a government agency, who left a message for us at the interfaith centre.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"That fear or hatred can translate to physical assault, negative comments, attitude, discrimination, or prejudice."[/quote]

The message was from a woman requesting to meet with him, “to better understand the needs of your community.”

Eager to discuss the needs of the MSA, Alam agreed to meet the woman at a Starbucks. After he arrived, shook her hand, and allowed her to buy him a coffee, the woman revealed that she was a Canadian Security Intelligent Services (CSIS) agent who had questions about the activities of the MSA and his community.

Although the questions were not targeting him personally, Alam expresses, “For me, that was Islamophobia, and it was coming from the government. Why was I subjected to being interrogated by CSIS agents, simply on the basis that I was a Muslim and involved with a Muslim student group?”

Usefulness in lobbying efforts

Alam explained that another important element of the project is the recording of Islamophobic hate crimes.

“Being able to use that information to better advocate to government, and to lobby government to do more about Islamophobia and racism in general [. . .] and pushing the government to do more about that, and more advocacy, and having people’s voices heard is something that is really important for me.”

Alam hopes the Islamophobia hotline will send out a clear message to those who perpetuate Islamophobia that there are repercussions for their actions, while at the same time making those who appear to be Muslim feel safe.

“I think we’re still living in a fairytale world, thinking ‘this is Canada, not the United States, these things doesn’t happen here,’ and I think a big part of this is recognizing that Islamophobia and racism are real," he says.

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by Matt D’Amours in Montreal 

Community organizations and immigrant lobby groups in Quebec are speaking out against a provincial welfare reform bill that would require new social assistance applicants to enter the job market sooner. 

Activists say that Bill 70, “An Act to allow a better match between training and jobs and to facilitate labour market entry,” will have a disproportionate impact on Quebec’s immigrant population, which is overrepresented in the welfare system. 

At the Minister of Labour’s request, Bill 70 would seek to introduce a “workfare” system that requires welfare recipients to enter a job training program, or “accept any offer of suitable employment.” 

Those who fail to meet these conditions could see their social assistance cut in half. For a single adult receiving $623 a month, that would mean a drop down to about $308. 

Political opponents have also criticized the plan, introduced last year by the province’s Liberal government. In a National Assembly debate on Feb. 25, Bernard Drainville of the Parti Québécois called the law “heartless, arbitrary, unwise, myopic and disrespectful.” 

During a parliamentary hearing on Feb. 17, Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation.[/quote]

“In general, as you know, immigrants want to integrate and make the necessary efforts to find employment,” Blais said. The minister added that, among the organizations he had spoken to, there was “zero worry” about how the proposed welfare reforms would impact the immigrant population. 

Faulty perceptions of immigrants and employment 

Pascale Chanoux, of the group Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), testified at the Feb. 17 hearing, and said the minister’s comments highlight the government’s faulty logic about immigrants and employment. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles."[/quote]

“Bill 70 claims that if we want to, we can – which is to say that whether someone gets a job or not is based on whether they want to or not,” Chanoux explained. “The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles … [for him] everything is always about the willingness and responsibility of the individual.” 

Another person who testified that day was Nalawattage Pinto, a Sri Lankan immigrant who came to Canada in 1993. 

Pinto described the systemic barriers that made his job search difficult upon arrival, including his lack of French language skills, and the market’s lack of recognition of his professional experience in Sri Lanka. 

Pinto was forced to work nights at a chemical plant, which he alleged only hired new immigrants because it was dangerous work. 

He also said the company only hired people for six months, so that workers wouldn’t have time to unionize. After Pinto and his wife lost their jobs in 1994, they were forced to apply for welfare. 

Pinto is not alone. According to a provincial report on social assistance published in November 2015, new Canadians make up nearly a quarter of welfare recipients in Quebec. 

However, another provincial report, which tracked immigrant welfare requests between 1996 and 2004, found that most made their application early after their arrival in the province – usually within the first six months. 

That same report found that once these immigrants opted out of the welfare program, they generally didn’t return. 

“This first stay in social assistance is, in the large majority of cases, a unique episode in the process of integration for immigrants,” the report concluded. 

‘Suitable’ employment for who? 

The concern with Bill 70 is that for immigrants seeking assistance within their first months in Quebec, the mandate to accept a job that is deemed “suitable” by the government could force people into a cycle of low wages, and further trivialize the qualifications they held in their native countries. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?”[/quote]

“We talk about accepting a suitable job – but suitable for who?” asks Chanoux. “Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?” 

Those who refuse to accept “suitable” employment would see massive cuts to welfare benefits, which are already too low to live on, according to Project Genesis, a social justice community organization based in Montreal. 

The group points to a fall 2015 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which shows that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal now stands at $675 – $52 more than the current welfare benefits received by a single person. 

“Any policy that reduces the income of households living in poverty is destined to … [increase the] depth of poverty experienced by people on low income,” stated Project Genesis. 

During his closing remarks at the Feb. 17 hearing on Bill 70, Pinto outlined the hardships he had experienced as an immigrant in Quebec. 

“I’ve had jobs at minimum wage since I’ve been in Canada,” Pinto explained. “I am now 65, and I did not achieve the dream that we had when we came here.” 

If Bill 70 passes in Quebec, the TCRI and Project Genesis argue, Pinto’s dream of a better life will become harder to achieve for a whole new wave of immigrants. 

“We’re talking about poverty and exclusion,” Chanoux said of the proposed legislation. “It’s part of a tendency to try and recoup money on the backs of populations that are very vulnerable.”


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