Commentary by Aleem Ali in Brisbane, Australia

A few career changes ago, I managed a branding and design agency. Our primary task was to help our clients communicate their organisation, product or service. We worked to create a strong brand so that people would choose our client’s company or service over and above their many competitors.

Since I ran that agency 15 years ago, much has changed in the world. But some things still hold true, and many issues have grown in scale. Talk to retailers, tour operators and educational institutions. Talk to employers. They will tell you that competition is only increasing, not diminishing. And the competition is now global, not local.

Last year, not long after the launch of Welcoming Cities, I received a phone call from the CEO of a Regional Business Council. They outlined their challenge as follows: “We have a large infrastructure project in our community. When the project is complete, we know that we won’t be able to attract enough people domestically to fill all the jobs. So, we need both a national and international solution. But we are struggling to attract people. There is a perception of our community that we are not welcoming. Because of this perception, Australian residents and migrants don’t want to move here, live here, or work here. We need to change that perception. We don’t just want to be a welcoming city; we NEED to be a welcoming city.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our international reputation of a fair go, cheering for the underdog, and boundless plains to share no longer seem to ring true.[/quote]

This story, or at least the sentiment behind it, seems to be a growing challenge.

I recently met with Local Government employees of a major capital city. Their focus is on increasing social cohesion and economic participation in their region. They’re concerned by political sentiment and what they perceive to be regressive policies and divisive rhetoric. One of the people in the meeting commented that “Brand ‘Australia’ is damaged. There’s no evidence this will improve anytime soon. We need to do something about it.”

Brand Australia needs some serious help

The compelling and disconcerting truth of this statement struck me. Brand Australia needs some serious help. Our international reputation of a fair go, cheering for the underdog, and boundless plains to share no longer seem to ring true. The growing perception is that we demonise people fleeing torture and trauma, are intolerant of diverse cultures, and newcomers risk vilification. Brand Australia is now associated with a fair go for some, but not all.

Tourists, international students, and skilled migrants are vital contributors to our prosperity as a nation. And when it comes to the choice of coming to Australia, or not; perception is everything. If brand Australia ceases to be open, welcoming and generous, then the damage will not only be to our reputation but also the ongoing success of our nation.

The time to address that damage is now. It’s time to refuse small-minded, divisive politics. It’s time to stop waiting for politicians to cast a vision of a generous, welcoming and inclusive Australia and to grow this work ourselves. It’s time to lead. It’s time for community groups, small businesses, educational institutions, peak bodies and corporations to come together. It’s time to welcome newcomers to our shores and ensure that everyone can take part in social, economic and civic life.

It’s time to be deliberate, strategic and collaborative. To put policies and practices in place that value our First People’s, long-term residents and new arrivals. It’s time to rescue brand Australia. More than a branding exercise, this is a renewed commitment to an inclusive, multicultural Australia. 

Awarded and recognized for his contribution to the community, Aleem Ali has spent the past 20 years seeding and mentoring the development of various programs. Aleem is currently the National Manager at Welcoming Cities, in addition to lead roles with For the Common Good, and FOUND

Published in Commentary

A study led by Western University researchers Stelian Medianu and Victoria Esses has found that visible minorities are significantly under-represented in senior leadership positions at City Halls in London and Ottawa, with Hamilton faring better.

In London, only 7.9 per cent of senior leaders in the non-profit and municipal public sectors were identified as visible minorities compared to 13.1 per cent of the general London population.

In Ottawa, only 11.9% of senior leaders in the studied sectors were visible minorities compared to 19.4 per cent of the general Ottawa population.

In contrast, it was found that 13.8 per cent of senior leaders in Hamilton were visible minorities, closely aligned with the 14.3 per cent of the general Hamilton population who are visible minorities, according to a Western University news release

New Canadian Media interviewed Prof. Victoria Esses by email. She is Director of the Western Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations. Access the study here: Visible Minorities and Women in Senior Leadership Positions: London, Hamilton and Ottawa

Q: What would you say were the top five findings from this study?

The top five findings from the study are as follows:

In London and Ottawa, our data showed that visible minorities and visible minority women were severely under-represented in leadership positions in the municipal public and non-profit sectors. Hamilton fared better overall.

The municipal public sector had the poorest representation of visible minorities and visible minority women across all three cities. Visible minorities and visible minority women were also severely under-represented in Ontario’s agencies, boards, and commissions.

There was also evidence of under-representation of women at the senior leadership level in all three cities and Ontario’s agencies, boards, and commissions, but these effects were less severe than those evident for visible minorities and visible minority women.

Q: What do you think was your most startling finding in the representation of minority groups ?

The most startling finding was with respect to the lack of representation of visible minorities in the municipal public sector.

Q: You have been a researcher in the area of immigration and equity for a long time. What are the legitimate conclusions Canadians can draw from this study nation-wide? Is there a need for studies in other immigrant-rich cities and towns across Canada?

There is a need for studies in other cities and towns across Canada. Similar research is currently being conducted in Vancouver and we look forward to seeing their results.

I believe that one conclusion that can be drawn from these results is that there is still work to do to ensure that senior leaders who are our decision-makers represent those for whom these decisions are being made. This work may occur at the level of recruitment, as well as selection of senior leaders.

Q: Did you interview corporations and hiring managers? How did they explain the gap between the demographics of London and the representation within their own companies/institutions? Are they doing anything to fix this gap?

As mentioned, we did not look at businesses. Instead we examined the public sector and non-profits. It is also important to note that our methodology involved examining the representation of visible minorities in leadership positions and we found evidence of under-representation, but we did not address the issue of why these effects are evident. 


Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 04 October 2016 20:24

Surrey – the Canada of Tomorrow

Commentary by George Abraham in Surrey

Canadians from the Atlantic to the Pacific are suddenly aware that their world-famous model of multiculturalism is not working as well as it should.

People in the so-called “mainstream” want immigrants to do more to fit in – perhaps by abandoning customs and “back home” traditional mores that don’t jive with the rest of Canada.

While it is hard to pin down what exactly folks who belong to the “mainstream” would want us to do, this disconnect is evident in other ways. Take Canada’s media scene, for instance.

Mainstream media are losing ground, while ethnic media continue to thrive – with new outlets opening in new markets, adding new foreign languages to an already-saturated landscape.

Redefined by immigration

This disconnect was at the heart of a presentation I made in Surrey last week, organized as part of the Walrus Talks series, and titled “Cities of Migration”. Surrey was surely a great location to hold this event; a laboratory of sorts.  

Like a handful of cities across Canada, Surrey is being redefined by immigration. Its demographics are startling: the latest census data shows that 41 per cent are immigrants, 14 per cent have arrived since 2001. There has been strong growth in recent years from India and the Philippines.

Markham, Richmond, Brampton and York are in the same league. This is where the Canada of tomorrow is being born.

While in Surrey, I ran into three folks who seem to understand that they are participants in a social experiment that may well determine if Canada will survive as a cohesive society. It is in places like this that we will know if multiculturalism is actually working in practice.

The first was a well-spoken cab driver, Amarinder Singh Dhillon, who's been at the wheel over three decades. But, his source of pride is being “the only Rotarian to drive a taxi”. “Only in Canada,” he exclaims. I agreed.

Stephen Dooley, executive director of Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus, also gets it. He saw that this city was going to be a haven for refugees from Syria – home to half of all B.C. arrivals from that war-torn Middle East nation – and hence led a study that will inform settlement strategies. However, what struck me was not the study itself, but the fact that Prof. Dooley hired seven recent refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq and El Salvador as research assistants.

That to me suggests empathy.

The last true believer I ran into was Michael Heeney, principal at Bing Thom Architects, who spoke of creating a “third space” while conceiving the edifice that houses SFU’s Surrey campus. The architects ended up redeveloping a declining shopping centre, opening up the roof to overlay the university and integrating an office tower on it.

The local Wal-Mart and university have a shared roof.

Intersecting spaces

Dhillon, Dooley and Heeney are doing what Surrey needs to succeed: creating shared spaces, fostering conversations and melding the old with the new. I suspect they are not fans of “asymmetric” integration which holds that the onus is on immigrants to fit in.

My good friend and an authority on multiculturalism Andrew Griffith wrote this in Policy Options last month: "The integration process is asymmetric: it is more important for immigrants and new Canadians to adapt to Canadian laws, norms and values than it is for the host society to adjust to them. The meeting point is not ‘somewhere in the middle’ between the host society and the newcomers, but much closer to the host society (80/20 percent, in my view).”

My time in Canada (14 years) tells me that the meeting point is indeed in the middle. The host society must do all it can to make newcomers feel at home, while immigrants must make an equal effort to reach out.

The mainstream cannot adopt the sort of “benign neglect” that no less a Canadian than a former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson referred to in her book, Room for All of Us. [Video courtesy: Stephen Hui/Georgia Straight]

A New Conversation

My talk in Surrey dealt with creating a new Canadian conversation, beginning in the media. The two solitudes of “ethnic” and “mainstream” are as far apart as Gander and Coal Harbour.

We need to find common ground and ways to work together.

Paul Dhillon and Krystele Chavez are perhaps representative of a new breed of immigrant journalists who feel vested in Surrey’s future.

“Bringing innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to the economy, it is because of immigrants that we have kept our city demographically young and culturally enriched, therefore enhancing our influence in the nation,” says Chavez, who comes from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, and writes for Surrey604.

Dhillon has a longer horizon. “Surrey was largely an agricultural backwater until the Indo-Canadian builders and developers built it into subdivisions and strip malls. The impact of immigrants has been immense on the city's development and its current diversity is proof that its future will also be drastically shaped by a truly multicultural and metropolitan population,” says the editor-in-chief of the South Asian Link newspaper.

Theirs are new voices that need to be heard.

George Abraham is founder and publishing director of New Canadian Media

Published in Commentary

by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto

Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Love is as haunting as it is beautiful. Set in post-WWII Japan, the novel touches upon migration and identity issues as pertinent today as they were in 1946.

It is also a rare account of one of the most under-reported and darkest periods of Canadian history  when Japanese Canadians were categorized by the government as enemies and forcibly removed from their homes.

After the Japanese attack on a U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government ordered the removal of male Japanese Canadians from 18 to 45 years of age from the coast of British Columbia.

Those displaced were put in shoddy internment camps in B.C.’s interior and Alberta. Camps were often made of barns or animal stalls.

Others were deported to Japan. Some 23,000 people had their property confiscated and were detained without charge or trial.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Some 23,000 people had their property confiscated and were detained without charge or trial.[/quote]

Life in Occupied Japan 

This is the pulsing backdrop to Kutsukake’s plot: the story of 13-year-old Aya Shimamura’s repatriation to Japan with her father after her mother suddenly dies. 

But there is little respite in Tokyo. As her father works long hours, Aya is often left alone. At school, she is bullied for being a foreigner and speaking poor Japanese. 

Only one child, a feisty girl named Fumi Tanaka, befriends her – but only to enlist Aya’s perfect English skills to help her find her older sister who has mysteriously disappeared. 

Together, Fumi and Aya write a letter to General MacArthur, the American military commander who oversaw the U.S. occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. Theirs is one of many letters written by Japanese citizens seeking guidance in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. nuclear attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Sending letters of hope 

The letters are remarkable in how they vividly capture the cultural norms – and oddities – of post-war Japan. Topics range from sugar shortages to the difficulty in obtaining train tickets; from the evils of prostitution to the high cost of soya sauce. 

General MacArthur himself never appears as a character in the book, perhaps adding to some of his mystique. Instead, readers are introduced to his trusty Japanese-American translator, Corporal Matt Matsumoto. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some were not kind: ‘Get out Americans.’ Some letters were written in blood.”[/quote]

Matsumoto is reserved, almost stiff at times, but inwardly feels the heavy burden of every letter-writer he translates – not always accurately - for General MacArthur. 

“Most letters,” Matsumoto relates, “came in envelopes sealed shut with sticky rice glue, but some were rolled up like scrolls and tied with string. Others were folded so many times they looked like strange forms of origami. Some were not kind: ‘Get out Americans.’ Some letters were written in blood.” 

His reflections on the power of words are poignant. At times, they are chillingly reminiscent of the desperation seen in the faces of Syrian refugees today, who take unimaginable risks to travel to European countries for a better life. 

“It was frightening how many people were writing,” Matsumoto laments upon receiving yet another mountain of letters. “Awe-inspiring, but frightening. Such faith in the power of written supplication, such faith in the power of words. There it was, a gigantic mountain of hope.” 

Matsumoto’s colleague is also an enigmatic character. Nancy Nogami is a cheery Japanese-American typist impatiently waiting to return to the U.S. and seems to take a liking to Matsumoto – or at least an appreciation for his down-to-earth, subdued persona, which contrasts sharply with the boisterous American GIs (a military term for American soldiers). 

Like Aya, Matsumoto and Nogami’s characters struggle with the complexities of their Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian identities. It’s interesting to see how Aya and Nogami, upon meeting, immediately develop a sisterly kinship – a reflection of just how much easier it is for second-generation immigrants to identify with each other than it is for them to assimilate with young people ‘back home.’ 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The exploitation of women in Japan is not a unique case.[/quote]

Abuse of women in conflict 

The gripping search for Fumi’s ‘missing’ older sister, Sumiko, through dance halls, the black market, and the dark corners of Love Letter Alley - where Japanese women go to get notes from GI boyfriends translated - is perhaps what keeps readers most intrigued. 

Over time, Fumi realizes that Sumiko, like thousands of other Japanese young women at the time, felt compelled to leave home and make a living in Japan’s high-collar entertainment industry that began thriving in light of its American ‘guests.’ Selected by a club manager from a ration line in 1946, Sumiko didn’t accept the job offer immediately. 

“It wasn’t until Fumi developed beriberi and required special injections their parents couldn’t afford that she brought out the business card he had given her,” Kutsukake writes. 

The exploitation of women in Japan is not a unique case. Over and over in post-conflict societies, women and girls fall prey to sexually exploitative situations – illegal or otherwise – that often save their families from impoverishment. 

It’s a phenomenon that thrived in post-war Japan, flourished in post-Saddam Iraq under U.S. occupation, and is growing on the battlegrounds of Syria today. 

At its core, The Translation of Love is a story as much about pride and dignity in the face of oppression and humiliation as it is about the dark effects of discrimination, poverty and war.

Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Maria Ikonen in Gatineau, Quebec

Settlement workers seeking opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and exchange ideas about tackling the challenges faced by refugees, will be given the opportunity through a one-of-a-kind course offered at York University.

“Refugees and Forced Migration” is a one-week intensive summer course being offered from May 9 to 13, 2016 at York University in Toronto. Presentations will cover refugee and forced migration issues such as the law and legal context, diversity and resettlement in Canada and health care.

Johanna Reynolds, summer course director at the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, says that participants come globally from countries such as Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Germany and South Africa.

According to Dr. Christina Clark-Kazak, acting director of the Centre for Refugee Studies, the course will offer “Canadian context, but also international such as United States and Europe. This enriches the discussion.” 

Participants will have a chance to visit local resettlement agencies and to speak with the people working on the frontlines. “It is rare to be in a room with people who have expertise with the refugee forged immigration issues,” says Reynolds.

Clark-Kazak, who herself participated in the course 12 years ago, hopes that the program will provide an opportunity for academics and people working with refugees to talk about the newest trends and what is currently happening.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is a valuable opportunity to share information globally."[/quote]

According to Reynolds, anyone who is passionate about the course topics would find this week very useful. “This is a valuable opportunity to share information globally, and to take it back to the workplace with the tasks such as policy making and advocacy.”

Reynolds says that the participants are offered a deeper understanding refugee and forced migration issues, which extend beyond what the media is covering.

“Participants see that refugee issues aren’t only with Syrians, but there are other issues too. [The] course brings up the complexity of the refugee and forced migration politics.”

Global perspective on resettlement and refugees

According to Clark-Kazak, the main demand for the course arose from outside of the university. People doing related work wanted to attend the centre’s courses, but couldn’t for different reasons.

“We saw the need and market in North America and Canada,” says Clark-Kazak.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I feel it is important for learners to have a sense of how health intersects with refugee migration.”[/quote]

Reynolds points out that networking opportunities involve making linkages with faculty members from the Centre for Refugee Studies.

Some of the expert presenters will include Michael Casasola, a resettlement officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ottawa, François Crépeau, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and Director of McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and Dr. Meb Rashid, physician and co-founder of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and the medical director of Crossroad’s Clinic.

“I feel it is important for learners to have a sense of how health intersects with refugee migration,” explains Rashid. “Although settlement issues such as housing and employment are often the greatest determinant of the health of newly arrived refugees, poor health often negatively affects settlement.”

He continues, “Those that struggle with medical problems often have challenges with employment, language acquisition, housing, etc. As such, it is important to inject health care into the discussion around refugee migration.”

Participation in the course in May requires registration, but a public lecture will be hosted as a part of the week on May 10.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Refugee issues, as you know, could not be more salient than they are at present."[/quote]

The lecture will be presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“York University is known for the excellent work it has done on migration and refugee related issues for many years, so I was delighted to be invited to contribute to this worthwhile course,” Bhabha says. “Refugee issues, as you know, could not be more salient than they are at present, and the opportunity to engage students in key and challenging issues is more than usually welcome.”

Unique possibilities

Organizing a summer course doesn’t happen without challenges. As an example, Reynolds says that prospective participants have had issues with obtaining visas.

However, the organizers say the summer course is very much worth the effort of attending. Clark-Kazak mentions that the course can give busy policy makers and practitioners time to reflect.

“[The] course is a unique possibility for direct discussions after the presentations. It is a course that can offer a platform to come up with solutions to the refugee and forced immigration issues,” adds Reynolds.

“Every presenter and participant brings [a] different point of view and this course can mobilize participants to collaborate as project partners.”

The writer of this article was mentored by Leah Bjornson, a Vancouver-based journalist and New Canadian Media’s (NCM) Special Projects Editor through the NCM Mentoring Program.

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Published in Education
Thursday, 03 March 2016 23:54

Canada Seeks "The Perfect Immigrants"

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

As the federal government prepares to table its 2016 immigration targets by March 9, Immigration Minister John McCallum has indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students.

Terming foreign students as “the perfect immigrants,” McCallum said the previous Conservative government took the wrong direction when it took away the 50 per cent residency time credit for them and other temporary residents when applying to become permanent residents.

He said this in a one-on-one conversation with Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director, Global Diversity Exchange, at the 2016 Cities of Migration conference in Toronto on Wednesday. The forum was held in the lead up to the 18th National Metropolis Conference that opened today.

"It was the dumbest thing to do because if there's any group who would become good Canadians, it's them. They're educated, they know this country, they speak English or French. So why punch them in the nose when we're trying to attract them here in competition with other countries?"

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]hy punch them in the nose when we're trying to attract them here in competition with other countries?"[/quote]

Family reunification

McCallum said the Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, was also being reviewed. The Liberal party election platform had proposed that candidates with siblings in Canada should be granted additional points under the system.

McCallum said now that his party's election promise on the Syrian refugees has been met, streamlining his department would be his new top priority.

This would include reducing the processing times for people already in the immigration system.

“We have learnt a lot from fast-tracking the Syrians in how inefficiencies can be eliminated,” the minister said. "I am ashamed that we, a country who view ourselves as being open to newcomers, should take two years to bring together husband and wife and even longer to bring in parents and grandparents."

He said some processes are not necessary and his government would be applying risk management principles to bring in families quicker. “This is how we want to bring about ‘real change’ without increasing risks to Canadians.” But he cautioned that the changes to reduce processing delays are not going to happen overnight.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]e only have a certain capacity to increase our numbers. And we need to balance the competing demands.”[/quote]

Multi-year immigration plan

Asked by Omidvar on why the federal government goes about setting annual immigration targets instead of taking a more long-term view, McCallum said he would soon present a multi-year plan.

He said the government will be announcing the 2016 immigration levels plan in Parliament next week.

“While we would need a bigger pie to accommodate all the demands, we only have a certain capacity to increase our numbers. And we need to balance the competing demands.”

He listed them as:

  • The need to take in more refugees
  • Provincial governments wanting more economy class immigrants
  • Bringing in more under the Family Class

Last year’s immigration levels plan had made a provision for a maximum of 285,000 immigrants. That pie was to be divided among 186,700 economic immigrants, 68,000 family class immigrants and 30,200 from the humanitarian stream.

Record intake of immigrants likely

In contrast, 19,000 Syrian refugees have already been resettled in the first two months of 2016 and the Liberals have pledged to resettle another 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by year end.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he Justin Trudeau government would be the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.[/quote]

And if McCallum makes true his commitment to increase the intake by even 15,000, the Justin Trudeau government would be the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.

On whether the focus on Syrian refugees would lead to cutbacks to other refugees and immigration streams and also welfare programs, McCallum said Canada would still accept refugees at the same pace from other parts of the world, but the rush to get Syrians into the country was both warranted and the right thing to do.

“I make no apologies to anybody. The Syrian crisis was the worst such crisis the world has faced in a decade and most Canadians agree with that. And we can always do more than one thing at once.”

Although privately sponsored refugees from Syria have to start paying their own airfare now that government-organized flights out of the Middle East have ceased, McCallum said the government is now considering paying the travel costs of all refugees Canada resettles in the future.

The federal government has been providing refugees loans to help them pay for required medical exams and travelling to Canada for decades. McCallum said that cancelling the loans is one of the options the Liberals are considering ahead of their first budget on Mar. 22.

"We were covering the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees [from Nov. 4 to Feb. 29] because most of them came on planes leased by the government,” McCallum said.

Canadians who sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived before Nov. 4 have complained that the Liberal government created a two-tier system when it decided to waive the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees who arrived in Canada after the Liberals were sworn into power on that date.

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Published in Top Stories

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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Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 17 December 2015 04:48

Panel Discusses Root Causes of Migration Crises

by Diba Hareer in Ottawa

The efforts by the Canadian government to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016 is generous, but it does not address the factors that caused the massive diaspora in the first place. Only when the roots of this and similar situations such as the North African migrant crisis are addressed can these human tragedies end.

This was the theme of a panel discussion held by Kaleidoscope World, a Canadian charity organization, on November 23rd.

The panel members discussed the complicated situations and obstacles refugees from all countries face during migration to Europe. The photos of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum focused the world's attention on the plight of Syrian refugees, but there is also a significant number of individuals fleeing North Africa.

Not since the Second World War has there been such a huge number of people fleeing across borders in search of better economic opportunities and safety. For some the journey — which begins with hope — ends in death.

The dangerous crossing to Europe

Hilary Homes, the acting manager of Amnesty International Canada’s Campaign Team and a member of the panel, says that as of August, more than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

She recalls an incident in May 2015 when fishing boats carrying South Asian refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh were forced back into the sea by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities who refused to let them disembark. 

“The refugees were left without food, water and medical care for an entire week until the Philippines and later Indonesia offered to take them in,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]More than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.[/quote]

This is only one example of a time when doors were slammed shut for refugees. Even if they successfully make the difficult journey to safety, refugees also face the threat of deportation.

Women refugees in particular “consistently face threats of violence, sexual violence, harassment and exploitation,” according to Homes. 

She says the refugee camps are usually crowded, with insufficient washrooms, and common sleeping areas, which puts women in vulnerable positions. 

Tackling the root causes of the migrant crisis

Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries, according to Hilda Joyce Portilla, another speaker.

Portilla, who teaches courses on migration, minority and sociology of family and gender relations at the University of Ottawa, explains that the problem for refugees does not start during migration: “The story begins long before that”. 

Some of the factors that lead to mass migration include terrorism, poverty, state persecution and corruption. 

Abai Coker, CEO of Canadian Solidarity and originally from Gambia, roots the problem in the corrupt systems of troubled African nations.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries.[/quote] 

He explains that tourism has gone bankrupt and Gambia depends on foreign aid. There is a lack of job opportunities. Coker says the government simply doesn't care for its citizens and has robbed them of hope in the future.

In Africa, the collective lifestyle and the focus on taking care of extended family members forces young people to move in search for opportunities, says Coker. They seek better lives in Europe, but often only find misery. 

They can’t get jobs and as a result become homeless. Women are forced into prostitution, face constant violence and some lose their lives, he explains.

Europe has promised 1.8 billion euro to African countries in return for the deportation of “unwanted” refugees, but Coker thinks the aid will be in vain because of corruption. “Europe has to check if the infrastructure and policies are right for keeping those people [in African countries],” he states.

Confronting terrorism in the Middle East

Majed El-Shafie, the president of One Free World International, argues that terrorism is at the root of the migration problem in the Middle East. He says the solution must go beyond removing ISIS. “You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.” 

El-Shafie said that the only way to stop terrorism is to educate the younger generation who are potential recruits for ISIS and other extremist groups. If they’re not properly educated, they will be more susceptible to the ideology. 

He believes freedom of religion and separation of religion and state in the Middle East will bring the lengthy conflict to an end and pave the ground for democracy. 

El-Shafie is also critical of Arab countries who share a similar religion, culture and language with Syria, but who are not taking in the refugees. Although 125 countries have ratified the UN Convention on refugees, most of the Middle East is absent from the list.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.”[/quote]

“Why are the Arab Muslim countries not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Why is Saudi Arabia not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, United Arab Emirates in general, Algeria, Morocco, Tunis?”

Once the refugees arrive in their new countries, the panelists say it's imperative that social support structures are put in place to help the migrants not only adapt, but also succeed. 

A refugee himself who came to Canada years ago, El-Shafie says the newcomers must not be treated as victims once they arrive. Instead they must be helped to stand on their feet again. 

“We’re human beings, who need to be independent.”

Journalist Judy Trinh mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program 

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Published in Top Stories

by Prof. Parvati Nair, UNU-GCM, United Nations University in Barcelona

A child should not have to die to mobilize governments into credible action. 

The photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body washed ashore, which has mobilized international responses to the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean over the past week, signals two inter-related tragedies: firstly, that of the human loss and suffering that is ongoing in this context, and secondly, that of the dire shortcomings of global and regional good governance of migration. 

As the EU prepares to address this issue in the run-up to the High Level Side Event on Migration planned at the UN on 30 September, there is an urgent need to reflect on how best to swiftly and competently address the mounting crisis in migration to Europe. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][M]igration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself.[/quote]

While Italy and Greece are overwhelmed as receiving points of migration from across the Mediterranean, there is every indication that the numbers of refugees who have entered Europe form only a small proportion of those who are already displaced and making their tortuous ways via Libya, Turkey, Eastern Europe and other routes in search of a safe and dignified life. 

Multiple causes for migration

There are some important facts that must be taken into account in this context: firstly, a condition for positive dialogue among global leaders is the understanding that migration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself. 

Secondly, the flows coming into Europe today are mixed. It would appear that certain world leaders may favour hosting refugees (if only because there is a certain historical and political kudos to be found in the idea of Europe as a place of shelter), but reject the thought of offering hospitality to 'economic migrants' as those coming to take advantage of European wealth. 

In reality, there are multiple causes that displace populations and trigger migration. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants move shoulder to shoulder along networks and routes to Europe. 

Thirdly, the vast and growing underworld of smugglers and traffickers (at times it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle the one from the other) thrive off existing European border policies and practices. The denial of visas and the building of fences with ever more razor wire foster the business of smugglers and force migrants down unsafe and undignified terrains of illegality. This is not the way forward. 

Relieving burden on Greece, Italy

Governments must understand that for as long as vast global inequalities that relate at once to questions of wealth, well-being, freedoms, rights, peace, security and democracy exist between Europe and other parts of the world, there will be both the absolute need and the overwhelming desire to access Europe. 

Against this backdrop, global leaders need to respond proactively in the short, medium and longer terms in order to safeguard lives and diminish suffering. 

As a first step, European leaders must establish a common asylum policy that sets procedures whereby residency and benefits are on offer equally across European states. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive.[/quote]

Perhaps Europe could look back at that other image of a suffering child that once mobilized a similar response – the girl fleeing napalm in Vietnam – and work towards a resettlement plan that is shared and that takes into account not solely those already in Europe, but also the many more on their way. Europe has room for them. 

The current burden on Greece and Italy needs urgently to be relieved. It also seems imperative to open legal channels for migrants, so that they do not surrender their safety into the hands of smugglers. 

A common asylum policy with applications processed along transit routes would enable legal, safe and managed migration into Europe. While this is being implemented, governments need urgently to contribute funds to the many agencies that are currently providing for the basic needs of migrants. 

In the medium term, European leaders need to engage with governments in Turkey and the Gulf. 

While Turkey currently hosts large numbers of Syrian and other refugees, the granting of residence and employment rights via visas would enable them to both contribute positively to local economies and ensure their safety and dignity. The Gulf countries too could engage in settlement programmes – if the political will were present. 

In the longer term, there is much that remains to be done. The ending of conflicts, greater development, and the ending of political oppression are all necessary for well-being, democracy and dignity. For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive, and that acts always within the larger frame of human rights. 

by Dr. Melissa Siegel, UNU-MERITUnited Nations University in Maastricht

With migrants arriving – and dying – every day in Europe, countries like Sweden and Germany have been stepping up and giving a good example to their European neighbours; but sadly this example is not being readily followed.

The general lack of coordination at EU level is simply unacceptable and frankly embarrassing for a region that prides itself on upholding principles of human rights.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]efugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves.[/quote]

As EU leaders prevaricate over the 200,000 refugees they have agreed to take over the next five years, countries neighbouring Syria have seen their populations rise by as much as a quarter.

Lebanon and Jordan, with populations of 4.5 and 6.5 million, are respectively hosting more than 1.2 million and 650,000 refugees, while Turkey continues to welcome additional refugees after having absorbed 1.6 million.

Refugees as part of economic development

For too long, Europe has given aid while saying, ‘not in my backyard’; this policy is not only shameful, but also completely unrealistic.

Camps in neighbouring countries are overflowing and people have few other options than to move on.

“The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and health care,” writes Harriet Grant in The Guardian newspaper, “have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees northwest towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”

This means we are going to continue to see refugees and asylum seekers knocking on Europe’s door. If Europe really cares about the well-being of these individuals (and human rights principles more generally), then more durable solutions need to be taken at a European level. This starts with accepting more UNHCR resettles so that they do not need to make the dangerous journey to Europe themselves.

European leaders should also change their thinking about the current refugee situation and embrace it as an opportunity instead of a threat. As Professor Alexander Betts of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford puts it, we could ‘treat refugees as a development issue.’

He argues that refugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves. By doing so, they are able to greatly contribute to the development of the economy and society in their host country.

Europe, with an ageing population, should see this situation as not only a humanitarian responsibility, but also an opportunity to bring capable, resilient new people into their societies.

Re-published via Pressat Newswire

Published in Commentary

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
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