Top Stories

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Communities across Canada are ramping up their efforts to link their local settlement services to meet the needs of newcomers through the federal Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) program. 

The idea behind the program is to enhance existing partnerships by building networks upon existing networks to make sure Syrian refugees and other newcomers get connected with the resources they may need in their new communities. 

Recently, the Sarnia-Lambton Local Immigration Partnership in Ontario helped 20 families of Syrian refugees settle into its community, while Moncton, New Brunswick also found out that it would receive funding to start its own LIP. 

Across the country, more cities are getting on board with this model. Here’s a look at two examples: 

Brooks, Alberta: Envisioning stages 

Even prior to it signing up for this program in the fall of 2015, immigration was a major part of this city. 

Shannyn Creary is the coordinator for the Brooks Local Immigration Partnership (BLIP). Creary estimates that immigrants make up 20 to 25 per cent of the city's population, which includes temporary foreign workers employed by the JBS Food Canada packing plant. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We are very equipped to receive newcomers.”[/quote]

One selling point that draws immigrants to a small community like Brooks is the low cost of living. 

Even though it isn’t one of the main centres where immigrants tend to gravitate, Brooks meets settlement needs, including housing and education. 

“We are very equipped to receive newcomers,” says Creary. 

On Jan. 26, Brooks held a forum to introduce the BLIP to the community, during which many questions were raised. 

“We’re in that envisioning stage. What can we do? Where is our community at? Where would [residents] like to see this go?” Creary explains. “If we were to embark down certain paths, how would the community rate the project as a success?” 

One of the first things the BLIP has to do is establish a baseline in terms of statistics. In order to do that, it needs to figure out how to collect data in a formal manner. However, Creary notes that there are already partnerships within the community. 

People are used to having an informal network. LIPs can help formalize these networks and provide structured means of collecting information or doing research for community projects. 

One service she says needs to be met is mentorship, as there aren’t many established immigrant families who can formally mentor newcomers. 

The next step is to have the BLIP council established so the program’s steering committee can begin work by March. 

Simcoe County, Ontario: Rapidly growing 

Even in cities where LIPs have been long established, newcomers continue to seek new ways of connecting to services, requiring the programs to keep up. 

Shelley Sarin says that when she moved to Toronto from India as a 21-year-old student, she felt included. But 10 years later when she moved to Barrie, Ontario, she says she was isolated in a place where she didn’t feel a sense of community. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sarin noticed other ethnicities also didn’t have formal organizations that brought them together.[/quote]

That led Sarin to start the non-profit South Asian Association of Simcoe County four years ago. Since then, the association has grown. Diwali, which people primarily used to celebrate in their own homes, is now marked with an event Sarin’s organization puts on that attracts 400 people. 

Sarin started working with the Simcoe LIP when it formed in 2011. 

“As I talked with them, I went to more of these meetings, I realized it wasn’t just the South Asians that were feeling that way,” she recalls. “It was the Spanish people involved, the Filipino community was there, the Chinese group was very active, so there are a lot of ethnicities within Simcoe. And they were in the same place as we were.” 

Sarin noticed these other ethnicities also didn’t have formal organizations that brought them together. 

Simcoe LIP worked with each of these groups to provide them with guidance and mentorship. 

“They showed us we had to register as a non-profit organization and we had to do things the proper way and [showed us] what’s out there and what kind of funding we can ask for,” Sarin says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The new Syrians can benefit from the pilot projects we have in place with the local libraries.”[/quote]

Today, about 7,000 new residents are coming into the Simcoe County annually, according to the Rural Ontario Institute, says Sandra Lee, project manager of the Simcoe LIP. 

Syrian refugees are among the recent new arrivals who are benefiting from the network – and forcing its expansion. 

To connect immigrants face-to-face with the services offered by the community, Simcoe LIP added libraries as information and referral mechanisms, because previously there were only two physical buildings within the county where immigrants could access settlement services and community information.

The libraries create 32 more points of access across Simcoe County, which is spread out over 18 municipalities.

“We have had time to prepare for [the Syrian refugees],” says Lee. “The new Syrians can benefit from the pilot projects we have in place with the local libraries.” 

Simcoe LIP is also working towards building a multicultural centre where various ethnic groups can host their respective celebrations. 

“We’re hoping to have inclusiveness,” says Sarin. “We’re painting the stage of Simcoe to be more colourful and being more actively involved in the festivals and embracing the different dynamics that we have within Simcoe.” 

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Saturday, 06 February 2016 15:12

Canada Defends Fast-Track Refugee Plan to U.S.

Written by

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City 

In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: India’s Republic Day was not a celebration for everyone, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s visit to a Sikh shrine was less controversial than first reported and Canada’s plan to settle 25,000 refugees faces more challenges.

Refugee resettlement strategy under scrutiny 

The Canadian government’s plan to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees through immediate government and private sponsorship is facing criticism from south of the border. 

Canada’s government defended its refugee plan at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on Feb. 3 titled “Canada’s Fast-Track Refugee Plan: Unanswered Questions and Implications for U.S. National Security.” 

In a Canadian Press story picked up by the Epoch Times, it was reported that Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, declined the Republican-controlled committee’s invitation to attend in person. 

Instead, Doer sent a note outlining five security measures related to the Syrian refugee program, four of which involved regular border co-operation with the U.S. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Rest assured that no corners, including security screening, are being cut in order to achieve the government’s objectives.”[/quote]

“Rest assured that no corners, including security screening, are being cut in order to achieve the government’s objectives,” Doer wrote. “Rather, the government has devoted significant resources to this effort.”

Canada’s plan will have to stand up against testimony from border guards, anti-terrorism organizations and economic experts who argue that tightened borders affect the flow of exports from Canada to the U.S.

In related news, some of the Syrian refugees who have arrived are feeling “hopeless” as they wait in hotel rooms to be settled into homes, find work and go to school. 

“Some of the 85 government sponsored refugees say they want to return to the camps in Jordan and Lebanon as opposed to staying in Canada,” reported the Epoch Times, citing a CBC report. 

The Times also refers to an op-ed piece in the Toronto Sun that asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow more refugees to be accepted through private sponsorship.

India’s Republic Day marked by ceremony, criticism

Events took place in India and Canada on Jan. 26 to celebrate Republic Day, though some were not without controversy. The event marks the adoption of India’s constitution on the same day in 1950. 

As the Indo-Canadian Voice reports, this year’s celebration in New Delhi was a display of pomp and military prowess for politicians and dignitaries, including French President Francois Hollande. 

The Indo-Canadian Voice also reports that the Sikh Regiment was excluded from the Republic Day parade in Delhi, which Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal later called “sad and regrettable” in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Meanwhile, according to South Asian Daily, separatist leaders were put under house arrest to prevent protests at the Republic Day celebration in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir state. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[O]ur annual recognition serves as reminder to strive for [Mahatma] Gandhi’s message of unity through diversity and thriving together in harmony.”[/quote]

In Canada, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark made a statement wishing a memorable Republic Day celebration to Canada’s Indo-Canadian community. 

“With a proud and vibrant Indo-Canadian community, British Columbia has always had a special cultural connection with India,” said Clark, as reported in the Indo-Canadian Voice. “As we continue to expand trade and research relationships, those ties will grow stronger,” she went on to say. 

In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne marked the celebration at the Consulate General of India offices in Toronto, ahead of her visit to India on Jan. 27. 

“Sixty-six years ago today the Constitution of India came into force signalling a new era for the entire country,” said Wynne, as quoted in Canada Wishesh. “It was a moment of great triumph and celebration for India, and our annual recognition serves as reminder to strive for [Mahatma] Gandhi’s message of unity through diversity and thriving together in harmony.” 

Conflicting accounts of Wynne’s visit to Sikh temple 

News sources published different reports of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s stop at a Sikh shrine during her visit to India last week. 

Even before her visit to the Golden Temple on Sunday, the Hindustan Times in India reported that the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) would not present the premier with a siropa (robe of honour) because of her support for same-sex marriages. 

According to the Indo-Canadian Voice, SGPC President Avtar Singh Makkar told the Hindustan Times: “Offering her (Wynne) a siropa would be against Sikh ethics.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Offering her (Wynne) a siropa would be against Sikh ethics.”[/quote]

The Times maintained that Wynne did not receive the siropa even after photos of her were published wearing the robe following the visit, reports the Voice. 

“The SGPC apparently avoided mentioning the presentation of the siropa to save face after having declared that they would not honour Wynne with it. The Punjab government apparently exerted great pressure on the SGPC to present Wynne with a siropa,” reported the Voice. 

An article by Indo-Asian News Service, picked up by both South Asian Daily and Darpan, reported that Wynne was honoured with the siropa, as well as a tour of the shrine’s important areas and a gold-plated photo of the site. 

However, the Punjab Star noted that Wynne did not receive the siropa. 

The Star also reported that a major discussion point for SGPC chief secretary Harcharan Singh was the issue of exempting Sikh men from wearing helmets while driving motorcycles in Ontario. 

It is not clear whether Wynne will consider the exemption.

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by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Abdullah Kurdi, father of the three-year old toddler who captured media attention when his body was discovered on the shores of Turkey, is not coming to Canada, despite the fact many of his relatives are already here. 

He's not the only one who’s hesitant to come to the country. Many refugees have refused an offer from the Canadian government, which is problematic for the Liberals' plan to resettle 25,000 refugees by the end of February.

Tima Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister, shared her thoughts on his decision.

“It’s the distance from [their family] that’s bothering them,” she says. She says that many refugees still have family members back in Syria. Several members of her own family, including Abdullah, have declined to come to Canada.

According to the latest updates by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the number of landed Syrian refugees in Canada since November 4 has reached 16,215.

Dana Sleiman, a UNHCR spokesperson in Lebanon-Beirut, explained that many of these refugees are motivated to stay close to their family members in different parts of Syria.

“The majority of people our resettlement team has been in touch with indicated that they were reluctant to leave family behind in Lebanon” says Sleiman.

Proximity to family very important

Sleiman informs New Canadian Media that there are varied reasons that refugees refuse to settle in Canada. One is that, culturally, Syrians are accustomed to a nuclear family system. 

As a result, when a small unit of a big family is offered passage to Canada, they’ll decline it in favour of staying with other members of the family — for instance, siblings or parents who are not included in the referral. 

Sleiman further states, “In some cases, if any one member of the family did not want to travel, the entire family will withdraw from the opportunity of leaving the camp and [settling] in Canada.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"If any one member of the family did not want to travel, the entire family will withdraw."[/quote]

Kurdi, who resides in Vancouver, says that concerns over being able to return to Syria are also top of mind.

“They are afraid that how will they go back, its going to be expensive,” she says.

“So for them Europe is fine they want to take temporary refuge so that they can go back once the war is over,” she adds.

Desire to return home after the war

According to an article published in The Globe and Mail, some of the refugees make the decision to stay in the region because they hope to be at the forefront of rebuilding efforts when peace returns. Others would rather stay than adjust to a new culture and learn a new language.

The article tells the story of a law school graduate, Omayma al Kasim, who volunteers as a mental health worker in a camp in Jordan. Being the eldest sibling in the family, al-Kasim preferred to stay in Jordan because she would be close to her brother and his family, two of her sisters inside Syria and her other family members.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They hope to be at the forefront of rebuilding efforts when peace returns.[/quote]

She’s optimistic about being among the first to go back home to Syria if and when the civil war there ends.

Sleiman says this desire to return home is common among many refugees.

“In camps in Beirut, the top priority for families living here is the hope […] to one day safely return home,” she adds.

"These refugees deem that fleeing away to Canada or other countries won’t solve the problem. It can only be fixed if war ends,” says Sleiman.

Misconceptions of immigration 

According to Sleiman, declining resettlement in Canada is caused by a combination factors. One major contributor is the many misconceptions refugees have about coming to the country.

Some fear their children would be taken away from them upon arrival in Canada or that they’d be forced to convert to another religion, she says.

The Globe and Mail article also refers to the misconceptions and fear “which exist mainly among poorer, less-educated” refugees. 

Emad al-Khlef, a father of four who was barely literate, turned down the opportunity because “he feared he wouldn’t be able to learn enough English to support his family.”

These kind of refugees doubted the commitment of Canadian government to helping them upon their arrival in the country. For instance, they fear that they might lose their UN food aid and cash assistance, worth about $290 each month.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Some fear their children would be taken away from them upon arrival.[/quote]

Al-Khelf and many like him choose the poverty and isolation over perceived risks. “We are afraid of the unknown,” says al-Khlef.

The Canadian government is aware of these elements, according to Sleiman. “It is strengthening their cultural orientation to respond to these concerns,” she says.

Still, many refugees have chosen to make the journey to Canada, despite their concerns, rather than stay in the camps.

“Those who wish to give a better future and education to their children are accepting the calls and [are] ready to strive for new settlement,” Sleiman says. 

Kurdi says that a better future for his children prompted her brother Mohammad to come to Canada, but that she understands why Abdullah did not proceed.

“Get into his shoes of parenthood, who lost his family, then what will you say,” she concludes. 

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by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver 

In this piece, journalist Alireza Ahmadian discusses Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia with Cesar Jaramillo, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organization working in Canada and abroad to advocate for policy reform to prevent war and armed violence. 

The deal, valued at almost $15 billion, is the largest arms export contract in Canadian history and was awarded during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will see the shipment of an undisclosed number of light armoured vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems, based in London, ON, to Saudi Arabia. 

Why should Canadians be concerned about an arms deal between their government and Saudi Arabia, a country that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) say violates human rights? 

It is not just HRW and AI who condemn the abysmal human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Every authoritative organization in the world consistently ranks Saudi Arabia among the worst human rights violators [on] the planet. 

There is a widespread and well-documented pattern of violations of virtually every category of human rights in Saudi Arabia, so Canadians should definitely be concerned about the possibility that Canadian-made goods might be used to sustain a repressive regime and enable the further violation of human rights of civilians. 

What do we know about how Canadian arms are being used in Saudi Arabia? Are there any safeguards or ways of ensuring these weapons will not be used to violate human rights? 

We certainly know about the proclivity of the Saudi regime to systematically target civilians. In 2011, there were reports of Saudi forces using armoured vehicles, such as the ones Canada is set to ship to Saudi Arabia, to crush peaceful civilian protests in neighbouring Bahrain. 

The primary safeguard to ensure Canadian goods are not misused should be Canada’s own military export control policy, according to which the government must first determine that “there is no reasonable risk” that Canadian-made military goods might be [used] against civilians. 

Given what is widely known about the Saudi dire human rights record, it is hard to comprehend how there can be “no reasonable risk” of misuse. But so far the government has resisted calls to explain how the Saudi arms deal can be reconciled with the human rights safeguards of existing exports controls. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]hat’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world?"[/quote]

Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, also said that this deal has economic benefits for Canada. For instance, the arms deal supports “3,000 unionized workers in London, Ontario." What’s wrong with an arms deal that hires 3,000 Canadians? 

Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with job creation … However, we must recognize that this is a special case that merits special scrutiny. Valued at $15 billion, this is by far the largest military exports contract in Canadian history. And, as stated above, it is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia is a human rights pariah. 

So, while job creation is a legitimate pursuit of any government, in a case as egregious as this, we must assess as a society what is the real value we place on the protection of human rights. 

If economic gains are taken as the sole justification for arms exports authorizations, what’s to stop a country from selling weapons to ISIS or North Korea or organized criminals halfway around the world? 

The Harper government did not sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to regulate international arms trade and prevent military exports from fuelling armed conflict and human rights violations. Canada is the only country in North America, the only member of the G7 group of industrialized nations, and the only one of the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has not signed the treaty. 

It is worthwhile to note that countries such as Syria, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are also non-signatories. 

Do you think that signing this Treaty would address concerns over lack of transparency in Canada’s arms deals with other countries? How so? Do you think the new government will sign the treaty? 

Yes, I believe the new government will accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. It was an election pledge of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, and was a specific priority of foreign affairs minister [Stéphane] Dion’s mandate. This is a position to be welcomed and encouraged. 

The ATT entails increased expectations of transparency around arms deals and greater vigilance in regards to the end users of military exports. 

At the same time, Canada may find itself sending a mixed message about its willingness to live up to the ATT’s heightened expectations of transparency when legitimate concerns about the human rights implications of the Saudi arms deal remain unaddressed. 

It has been reported that in May 2015, Martin Zablocki, the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Commercial Corporation, the crown corporation that brokered the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said that the Middle East is a “strategic region” for Canadian arms sales. How does this deal serve Canada’s strategic interests? What would you say to those who argue that other countries are selling arms to the Middle East? 

It is a strategic region from a purely business perspective, of course. It is no secret that the previous government made economic diplomacy a cornerstone of its foreign policy. In this context, the Canadian [Commercial] Corporation has acted as an active facilitator in the pursuit of these deals, not just as a passive intermediary. 

“Everyone else is doing it,” sounds like an argument void of any ethical considerations and undermines the credibility of Canada’s military export controls — which Ottawa calls “some of the strongest in the world.”  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere.[/quote]

The Liberal government said that it would honour the arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Why do you think the Liberals decided to follow through with this deal even though they are trying to undo other aspects of the Conservative’s legacy? 

This deal would present a complex policy challenge for any party in power. There is a real confluence of economic, strategic and human rights dimensions that must be taken into consideration. But, again, Saudi Arabia isn’t a case of a handful of unconfirmed human rights violations. The human rights situation in the autocratic kingdom is absolutely abysmal. 

In a case where red flags are so apparent one would hope that the government would recognize, at a minimum, the need to publicly explain how this deal can be justified in light of existing export controls. 

The Canadian public has a right to know that the economic well-being at home is not being tied to the suppression of human rights elsewhere. 

How would you suggest the new government pursue future deals like this? 

There are specific human rights safeguards that are part of Canadian military export controls. Of course, however strong they might be on paper, they are only as effective when implemented. 

Beyond the need to abide by domestic and international regulations (including the Arms Trade Treaty, following accession) there is a need for greater transparency and oversight around the process by which arms exports authorizations are granted. 

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by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

Disoriented and anxious after a long journey from Beirut to Montreal, a Syrian refugee suddenly began running through the airport welcome centre, speaking frantically in his mother tongue. Staffers tasked with distributing winter care packages looked on apprehensively, unsure of how to approach the man. 

What could have escalated into a tense situation was defused by two on-site interpreters who were able to calm the refugee down, says Jack Xu, project manager at Multilingual Community Interpretation Services (MCIS), a non-profit enterprise that is exclusively providing interpreters for flights carrying Syrian refugees to Toronto and Montreal.

“They didn’t know he had special needs,” explains Yasmine Mousa, one of the supervising interpreters in Toronto. “They didn’t know he was repeating himself on and on.”

It’s circumstances like these where interpreters step in, despite their orders to remain impartial. They're only meant to assist refugees by lending their voices, not their advice.

“When these situations arise, it’s almost a call for humanitarian assistance,” says Xu. 

The importance and challenge of impartiality

Impartiality is sacrosanct for professional interpreters who are bound to confidentiality and barred from offering their opinions when doing their work. Even simply correcting misinformation one refugee had about Calgary being warmer than Toronto isn’t allowed, says Mousa.

“The only role of an interpreter is to be a conduit of information, to translate back and forth,” says Xu. “We’re not allowed to give additional information or advice.” 

Mousa and Hadeel Abu-Gharbieh lead a team of 54 interpreters who greet planeloads of 150 to 300 Syrian refugees each week as part of the Trudeau government’s commitment to resettle 25,000 by February 29 this year.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’re not allowed to give additional information or advice."[/quote]

As the first point of contact for refugees in their new home, interpreters are peppered with questions meant for settlement agencies on housing, schooling and medical services. 

There’s a disconnect between their expectations and how much information is given beforehand, say Abu-Gharbieh and Mousa. Many are “clueless” about the next steps, and are anxiously awaiting word on which city is prepared to welcome them and how long they will have to stay in the hotel they’re currently billeted in.

“There’s an impulse to help and do more, but the thing professional interpreters understand is that we’re just interpreters,” says Xu. “We don’t want them to become too invested, because you lose your impartiality.”

And so they bring these concerns to government staff. 

Stepping up to meet the influx

Just as the pace of the refugees’ arrival has overwhelmed settlement agencies’ efforts to find lodging, MCIS scrambles daily to attend to last-minute requests for interpreters in Montreal.

Transition flights are tricky for Xu, who explains that he’s often given less than 24 hours’ notice about when they’re departing because it’s dependent on which provinces are ready to accept them. 

In Montreal, where Red Cross oversees their settlement, there’s a shortage of Arabic-speaking staff, whereas in Toronto, there’s a network of neighbourhood agencies to rely on. This has put a strain on MCIS’ operations in Montreal, whose interpreters are dispatched beyond airports to hospitals, hotels and other government agencies. 

Xu says it’s beyond Red Cross control, given the looming deadline. What has helped alleviate the pressure of keeping up with demands has been the interpreters’ tireless enthusiasm for the project, he says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Interpreters are peppered with questions meant for settlement agencies on housing, schooling and medical services.[/quote]

“There’s something magical about this project,” says Abu-Gharbieh. “People try to be there all the time. They don’t want to miss out.”

For one interpreter, says Xu, it was a way for him to make “halal money,” or to work for a good cause. He says that many are prepared to work 12- or 14-hour days. 

Spirits were incredibly high on Dec. 31 even when everyone had to pull a 36-hour shift as they waited for five flights to arrive, say Mousa and Abu-Gharbieh. 

“It was a meaningful way to spend New Year’s Eve,” says Abu-Gharbieh.

Increased demand for translators moving forward

Xu projects that Arabic will overtake Mandarin as the most-requested language to interpret in 2016 — without factoring in the refugee project — because agencies like Toronto Public Health have their own need for interpreters. 

Right now, MCIS has a database of 820 Arabic interpreters across the country, most either in Toronto or Montreal, to mobilize. 

Their interpreters take a six-week, 100-hour program and are given terms to familiarize themselves with in order to work alongside government agents.

He anticipates the demand will only grow as they settle down, especially if the government decides to open interim lodging centres at military bases in Kingston, Ontario and Val Cartier, Quebec. That would mean finding the right interpreters nearby who can speak in the same dialect as the new arrivals. 

Mousa says she felt a sense of pride as an Iraqi immigrant to belong to a country that’s eager to welcome refugees, particularly when her native country chose to align with the Assad regime. “It means something to me to help them in one very small way.”

An interpreter’s work is often solitary, but with this project, many have formed strong bonds, says Xu. He’s looking for ways they can continue to work together. 

“I’m hoping we can help with resettlement […] acting as cultural experts,” he says. “We’re looking at that down the road. I don’t want to break apart the team.”

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by Vincent Simboli in Montreal

The refugee crisis displacing millions of people across the world and particularly in Syria has become the major political issue of our time. Canada’s new government has made very public commitments to welcome these refugees, and Quebec has officially welcomed 2,800 refugees as of January 2016.

While many are congratulating the Liberal government for its efforts and its promotion of the public discussion around refugee rights, immigration activists have admonished the government tobetter support immigrants already in Canada.

Mary Foster, an immigration activist with Solidarity Across Borders, explained to New Canadian Media that its disturbing to see that Canadians [can be] so moved by media and politicians to welcome people, yet that same goodwill is not extended to [other] people who came here from dangerous situations and who have decided to stay.

“I wish society as a whole could move beyond what is told to them,” she continues.

Need for compassion towards all immigrants

Foster stresses the need for Canadians to be compassionate toward all newly-arrived people, regardless of the political climate du jour.

According to Foster, a part of the Trudeau administrations decision to take in refugees stems from the desire to portray their government as more compassionate and warmer than the Harper administration. But the Trudeau administration needs to walk the proverbial walk, she says.

Noé Arteaga Santos, a Guatemalan-born, Montreal-based immigration rights activist explains in Spanish that the challenges immigrants face when coming to Canada are similar to, but often distinct from, those that refugees face.

“Refugees, for example the ones coming from Syria, are fleeing violence and are usually not expected to have all their documents with them,” says Arteaga. “Immigrants to Canada, however, even if they are also fleeing violence, are penalized and threatened for lacking these same documents.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Trudeau administration needs to walk the proverbial walk.[/quote]

Arteaga elaborates, “immigrants are constantly being told to wait for some form to clear, for some paperwork to be done. It is very difficult for an immigrant, particularly one without papers, to ‘hit the ground running’ and quickly start working or enrolling their children in school.”

The Globe & Mail reported on October 28, 2015 that “by 2012, the number of temporary employees let into Canada had more than tripled over the previous decade to 491,547, according to one government measurement.”

In 2014, the Conservative government cut funding for the temporary foreign worker program amid controversial reports that the program was being abused to displace Canadian employees.

A petition is circulating demanding that the Trudeau government follow up on its campaign promise to restructure the temporary migrant worker program and ease freedom of movement between employers and relax travel restrictions.

Non-status immigrant women at particular risk

The Non-Status Women’s Collective of Montreal delivered an open letter on the precarious situation of their immigration status to Justin Trudeau’s office on November 27th, 2015, and still have yet to receive even an acknowledgement of its delivery, let alone a response.

The Collective elaborated on their letter in a press conference on January 18, 2016 at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.

One member of the collective, speaking in French and wearing a mask to protect her identity, told the audience that, “We have called you here after having sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, who has declared himself to be in favour of the rights of women, children, immigrants, and refugees — which is very positive and encouraging. However, he has never said anything about us, the non-status.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"It is very difficult for an immigrant, particularly one without papers, to ‘hit the ground running.'"[/quote]

Women are among the most vulnerable of people without legal immigration status, as they often bear the dual burdens of having to work and care for the family — all without the benefits and security that the state is expected to provide to others.

According to Foster, non-status women often cannot report sexual assaults or other crimes to Canadian police due to their lack of legal status in Canada. They are also often unable to get the therapeutic and medical care which is critical after an assault.

“Additionally, women who arrive in Canada through private sponsorship may have their legal status tied to their husband,” explained Foster. This means that if these women are in abusive relationships, they may risk deportation if they attempt to report abuse.

Designing a city for all

Foster’s major suggestion for how Canadians can help refugees and immigrants is to help turn their city into a “Solidarity City,” which requires the opening of access to services for refugees and immigrants.

To form this Solidarity City, publicly-funded services such as schools must never permit police and migration officials to arrest, detain and deport minors, as happened to an undocumented minor in October 2014.

Those interviewed emphasized that they stand in solidarity with the recently-arrived refugees from Syria, and that their indignation with the Trudeau government is not meant to discredit the mass-mobilization of Canadian resources to welcome them.

Their key frustration, especially for the Non-Status Women’s Collective, is that their needs have fallen to the wayside as Canada’s borders begin to open to refugees.

Foster concludes her statement by reiterating the importance of settled Canadians to “read and write as much as possible about migration issues,” as well as “[open] one’s ears,” and by extension one’s mind “to the stories of immigrants in their neighbourhoods.”

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