by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga, Ontario

Forty-two-year-old Hoda Yasir is considered one of the most trusted and punctual house-cleaning ladies in the west part of Mississauga. Still, the Syrian-born refugee doesn’t get much work because she has no personal transportation to commute to jobs, needing to be picked up and dropped off often. This adds to her woes managing a family of four kids and a husband.

Hoda, whose named has been changed to protect her identity, is a biologist by profession but, unlike most refugees, has no proof of her qualifications.

“They got burned,” Hoda shares. “They were in a wooden box, and later I couldn’t find it in the ashes of my bombarded house.”

Resettlement isn’t easy

During the ongoing civil war in Syria, Hoda and her family managed to leave the western town of Qusair near the Lebanese border and enter Lebanon. In early 2013, this town became the latest site of urban warfare when clashes erupted between regime and rebels.

She and her family stayed there for more than a year and, later in 2014 under the first privately sponsored refugee program, managed to reach Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many Syrians who have come to Canada, both as refugees and immigrants, have become entrepreneurs." - Alexandra Kotyk, Lifeline Syria[/quote]

“My brother and uncle, with the help of Syrian community, deposited $75,000 for our immigration,” recalls Hoda.

“We came with nothing except for our passports, the only document, along with misery, wounds and agony of the home town. I didn’t know where to re-start, so I gathered all the courage and started a cleaning job, which does not need any expertise, documents or accreditation.”

It’s been two years in Canada for Hoda and her family. Her kids are going to school and are well versed in English now, but for Hoda and her husband – a computer specialist – the language barrier was another challenge. 

“Once a lady called and misunderstood per-hour charges [between] one-five [and] five-zero,” explains Hoda. “It was a big house and unfortunately I ended up with a meager amount.”

Although Hoda and her husband are experienced in their respective professions, resettlement hasn’t been easy.

“I understand that nobody finds a job without getting Canadian accreditation or some certification and for that too, I need to have proof of my degrees and experience from back home,” Hoda says, pausing before she adds, “I’ll probably re-start from kindergarten.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]A 2007 study from the European Commission and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that migrants have contributed to government revenues through entrepreneurship.[/quote]

From refugees to entrepreneurs

Resettling Syrian refugees in countries like Canada can prove to have positive economic impact, as they arrive with some education, says Alexandra Kotyk, project manager of Lifeline Syria, a citizen-led initiative working to bring 1,000 Syrians to the Greater Toronto Area through Ryerson University.

Many Syrians who have come to Canada, both as refugees and immigrants, have become entrepreneurs and have arrived with post-secondary education,” she says. “While the reason for resettling a refugee should be based on humanitarian principles and not economic [principles], we do expect that most will integrate quickly and contribute to the economy.”

The economic contribution Kotyk is referring to has proven true in some of the countries neighbouring Syria, where a 2007 study from the European Commission and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that migrants have contributed to government revenues through entrepreneurship.

According to a 2014 media report, the urban refugees started more than a thousand businesses in Turkey, including new bakeries, food businesses, travel agencies and restaurants run by Syrians.

Hoda’s husband has entrepreneurial goals in Canada himself. “I plan to set up a computer repair shop soon, and my sons can play a great help and support as they are learning new things here in schools and colleges,” he shares.

A need to boost efforts

Despite the Canadian government’s claims that it takes in roughly one out of 10 refugees every year from the estimated 16.7 million refugees in the world today, it still faces criticism on various grounds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Although the citizen-sponsored initiatives to welcome and support refugee families during their first year started off in the Greater Toronto Area, other major cities – Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary — are encouraged to step up and organize sponsorship initiatives.[/quote]

Firstly, the Canadian authority’s process has been said to be time consuming and it is not working out as the originally proposed 60/40 split between private and government sponsors.

Secondly, the Canadian government is urged to contribute to an $8.4-billion international aid appeal for Syria this year by the United Nations, which is twice the combined effort of previous two years. A report by Oxfam suggests Canada’s contribution should be $178.4 million for 2015, after contributing about $50 million in the first quarter of this year, as it failed to fulfill expectations of the UN’s humanitarian aid response in May 2015 in Kuwait.

In March 2015, Canada managed to meet its 2013 commitment of settling 1,300 refugees from Syria and pledged to resettle 10,000 more in another three years. However, where would this be done and who is responsible for bringing and settling the refugees to Canada are unclear.

And recently, in a campaign visit to Markham, Prime Minister Harper promised that, if elected, a Conservative government would accept 10,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria over the next four years, and pledged to spend $9 million in three years to support persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. 

Although the citizen-sponsored initiatives to welcome and support refugee families during their first year started off in the Greater Toronto Area, other major cities – Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary — are encouraged to step up and organize sponsorship initiatives like Lifeline Syria, Kotyk says.

“If other parts of Canada are able to also start a version of Lifeline Syria, it will mean more Syrian refugees are helped and, particularly, more children, many of whom are not able to attend school and are forced to work jobs to help support their families.”

This is something Hoda would also like to see happen.

“I have more family displaced in the camps in neighbouring countries of Syria,” she explains. “I wish they can join us too, as I don’t see that we can go back to Syria in near future.” 

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Published in Economy
Friday, 05 June 2015 12:55

Akali Dal Seeks Sikh Votes in Canada

India’s oldest regional political party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which rules Punjab, is sending special teams to Canada to woo votes from Sikhs who have left their homeland.

For the first time in its 95-year history, the party will send out a large contingent of senior leaders led by state cabinet ministers to woo the so-called Non-Resident Indians or NRIs to set up a structured organization and create a SAD base outside India.

"I am sending teams of my party in June-end to set up our organization in America, Canada and Europe," SAD president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal told the Times of India. 

"We will start a membership drive in these countries with each member getting a digital identity card."

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.[/quote]

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) will initially focus on the diaspora in the U.S., Canada and the EU. It will divide each of these regions into four zones and appoint a president in each zone. In the second phase they will head to Australia and New Zealand.

"We will create an entire organization with vice-presidents, general secretaries, working committee members, unit heads," Sukhbir added. "In October, I want to invite my presidents from around the world."

According to his plan over the next 45 days, three teams will visit various countries one after another. 

They will meet community leaders and also arrange some large gatherings. Each team will be led by a Cabinet minister. The teams will also identify people who are ideologically compatible so that they can be given important positions.

The Akali Dal operates on the political position of far-right, with a political ideology of Sikhism. In other words, the basic claim of existence of the Shiromani Akali Dal is in catering to the demands of the Sikhs across Punjab and all around the world.

Presently, the Akali Dal is in alliance with the BJP and forms a majority in the state, with 56 of its own members and 12 members of the BJP in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. The current Chief Minister of the state is Sukhbir Singh Badal’s father and party patron Prakash Singh Badal. 

The Akali Dal controls the various Sikh religious bodies and is highly revered among Sikhs in the country as well as across the world, for its efforts to safeguard religious, cultural and linguistic minorities. 

Following the Prime Minister's Lead

The move to woo the Sikh vote around the world comes at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set new standards in engagement with NRIs during his various trips abroad, including Canada in the past year.

It also follows fears of heightened Sikh militant activities by supporters of the Khalistan movement, which is seeking an independent homeland of Punjab.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy.[/quote]

In 2011, the Canadian Government estimated there to be at least 800,000 Sikhs living in Canada.

Observers said the SAD has a fairly tough task when seeking to secure the support of Sikhs overseas as many of the opinion makers in the diaspora were hardliners who had fled Punjab during the militancy era.

However, the SAD leadership feels that many Punjabi NRIs are tired of being seen as just moneybags that send dollars back home to keep their family and village happy. They now want the influence they wield over their community to translate into some kind of say in the affairs of Punjab.

"Have you ever noticed that all prime ministers from countries where there are Punjabis come and visit the Golden Temple?" Sukhbir told the Indian media recently. "Because they need votes there, they have to be seen at the Darbar Sahib. They have to be seen with us."

Virtually every Canadian politician makes a beeline for Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Punjab, for photo ops when in India.
Canada’s relationship with India’s central government in New Delhi and the state government of Punjab has been testy.

In August 2013, Sukhbir had cancelled his 10-day visit to Canada after the Canadian government said it would not provide immunity against any civil suit that may be filed against him there. 

Sikh groups in Canada had tried to file a case against him and Punjab police chief Sumedh Singh Saini for "crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, seeking an independent Sikh country, “Ontario Gurdwaras Committee” (OGC) a Canadian umbrella Sikh organization passed a historic resolution in support of holding a referendum in the state of Punjab in the year 2020.

Since the military invasion of Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in June 1984 in the operation code named “Blue Star”, Canadian Sikhs have been supporting the movement for creation of “Khalistan”, a sovereign Sikh country. 

The OGC said that on May 3, a gathering of more than 150,000 Canadian Sikhs unanimously passed the Punjab Referendum Resolution during annual Khalsa Day parade in Toronto.

Chanting slogans in favour of Independent Sikh country, participants walked over 11 kilometres from Malton to Sikh Spiritual Centre Toronto carrying placards demanding referendum in the state of Punjab.


Published in Partnership with South Asian Post

 

Published in South Asia
Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:24

Trash Talk Stops as Aquino Comes to Canada

With Philippine President Benigno Aquino set to make a state visit to Canada next month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Manila has dropped its demand on the Canadian government to take back the trash that was illegally shipped there two years ago.

Philippine Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the inter-agency government committee, including the DENR, agreed to dispose of the trash in landfills here “for the sake of our diplomatic relations” with Canada.

“It has been resolved. The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has strongly recommended it be settled diplomatically,” Paje said in an interview, published in Manila.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.[/quote]

“We still hold that the best thing to be done is that they (Canada) take it back, but what will be the effect? It will affect our diplomatic relations,” he went on.

The Bureau of Customs (BoC) said 50 container vans loaded with trash arrived in six batches from June to August 2013 at the Manila port.

The shipment was passed off as scrap materials for recycling, but customs inspectors discovered it consisted of household waste including adult diapers.

The DENR originally asked the Canadian government to take back the trash, as provided under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.[/quote]

The Philippines and Canada are among the 180 signatories to the treaty that seeks to prevent developed nations from dumping trash in developing nations.

Paje claimed the trash consisted of “recyclable plastics.” “Therefore if there is nothing hazardous, it can be treated here,” he said.

The trash had been rotting in the past two years, posing a health hazard at the Manila port and Subic port where some of the container vans were transferred to ease congestion.

According to Paje, they are still waiting for clearance from the Manila Regional Trial Court, after government prosecutors last February asked that the trash be disposed of in local landfills while the case continued.

No Need to Hurt Diplomatic Relations

The Canadian Embassy in Manila has been on receiving end of mass actions and public petitions to take back the trash since the illegal shipment was discovered.

The embassy has refused to take back the garbage, saying the issue was a “private commercial matter” between a Canadian exporter and its Philippine importer-partner.

“The issue is as friendly countries, would you insist on hurting diplomatic relations if there is another way?,” Paje said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter.” - Ramon Paje, Philippine Environment Secretary[/quote]

“They promised they will prevent a repeat. Canada will also look into their policies to avoid a repeat. They will go after their exporter,” he said. 

President Aquino will undertake a state visit to Canada on May 7 to 9, followed by a one-day working visit to the United States.

Malacañang said he would witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance and infrastructure development. SFM

Canada is the Philippines’ 21st largest trading partner, its sixth top source market for tourism, and is home to almost 700,000 Filipinos.

In 2014, Canada announced that the Philippines had been designated a Country of Focus for development assistance, and a Priority Emerging Market for Canadian overseas trade and investment.

The two leaders are expected to witness the signing of bilateral agreements on labor cooperation, development assistance, and infrastructure development, which will highlight the vibrancy of people-to-people relations.

The visit is the first state visit of a Philippine president to Canada since the visit of former President Fidel Ramos in 1997.


Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.

Published in The Philippines

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