Monday, 10 December 2018 15:30

What Stops Refugees from doing Journalism?

By Maria Assaf in Oxford, England  

In 2016 Canada’s first Syrian newspaper, The Migrant, was founded by Kameel Nasrawi. Nasrawi worked as a journalist and screenplay writer in Damascus before he and his family came to Canada as refugees two years ago. The Migrant shares positive stories about Syrians across Canada to inspire others in the community to create their own success stories.  

Many diasporas across Canada have started their own media outlets to connect their communities, share vital information and to create a sense of home. Some media outlets like the Philippine Reporter, whose publishers faced political imprisonment in the Philippines before settling in Canada, use journalism as a means to challenge the status quo and discuss the effect political events have on the members of their community. 

Back in 2015, Europe was in the midst of a self-proclaimed “refugee crisis.” As the European Union discussed a controversial deal with Turkey that would keep refugees outside its borders, I followed seven Syrian refugee reporters in Istanbul. Leicester University published a paper I wrote  in May 2016 about the challenges these reporters faced regarding freedom of expression.  

Importance of refugee journalism 

Richard Carver and Guglielmo Verdirame conducted research in Rwanda and former Zaire in 2001 and found that refugee outlets help their communities exercise their right of freedom of expression and access to information. It also provides communities access to comprehensive and accurate data about conditions in their countries of origin, which is essential when deciding whether or not to repatriate.  

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Nasrawi explained that because of the language barrier, many newcomers are unaware of programs run by the Canadian government, programs designed to help them integrate into Canadian society.  

Tiziano Bonini wrote that refugee reporting can be an important tool for those who may never be able to return home. For refugees, having publications that understand key issues in their community is vital. For example, The Migrant features articles on issues such as divorce, sex education and entrepreneurship, which the paper found to be pressing among the Syrian-Canadian community.  

With 68.5 million people forcibly displaced around the world and 10,832 refugees accepted into Canada between January and September 2018, ensuring that refugee populations are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression is a pressing issue.   

Challenges it faces 

However, engaging in journalism as a means of challenging “the establishment” is an almost impossible task for refugees worldwide. Although Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights foregrounds everyone’s right to speak out, international legislation often stops refugees from engaging with political issues. 

The Organization of African Unity’s 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, for instance, specifically forbids refugees from engaging in “subversive activities” or “attacking” a member state of the OAU “through the press, or by radio." Verdirame and Barbara Harrell-Bond found examples of African states that threatened to repatriate refugee journalists for their work. 

Refugees often face an uncertain legal status. In 2016, Turkey hosted 2.7 million Syrian refugees as “guests." A signatory to the Refugee Convention, -the law that governs refugee affairs internationally, Turkey decreed to only grant refugee status to Europeans. These restrictions made it hard for refugee journalism to thrive.

Funding for refugee journalism often comes from donors such as INGOs or Western governments, and it comes with conditions attached. The Syrian reporters I met in Turkey mentioned that funding tended to go to Western-friendly outlets and was usually provided for six months up to a year, making it difficult for reporters to set up sustainable businesses. Outlets often self-censored and avoided discussing Turkish political affairs. “Those are restrictions we are putting on ourselves. Because Turkey is the only place we are left with to work,” one reporter said. In some cases, Syrian newspapers also had an uncertain legal status. In 2014, Turkish authorities began to request that media outlets have government-issued licenses to operate, which many outlets were not able to obtain. The Turkish government also monitors and often interrogates these outlets about their coverage. 

Even in countries with fewer restrictions regarding free expression, doing journalism for refugees has been a historical challenge. Jewish refugee reporters fleeing Nazi Germany found that journalism schools in the United States refused to accept them, often citing anti-Semitic rationale. In Canada, Hermie Garcia, publisher of Canada’s Philippine Reporter, mentioned that he and his wife, who were journalists in the Philippines, were unable to find work in mainstream media because they lacked “Canadian experience.”   

Lack of a refugee voice in the global mainstream media  

Major texts on journalistic scholarship, such as the Handbook for Journalistic Studies by Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch, don’t consider refugee reporting as its own genre. However, scholars like Ullamaija Kivikuru, Melisa Wall, Madeline Otis Campbell and Dana Janbek have warned that the lack of refugee voices in international media reinforces soft-colonial discourse by portraying refugee lives as less valuable than those of the “developed world.” Their study revealed that international journalists often took photos of Syrian refugees without their permission and printed distorted stories about them. 

Palestinian reporters play an essential role in the production of international news about Palestine. But despite having relevant journalistic skills, their contribution is usually limited to translators, producers and fixers. Often, to keep their jobs at international news organizations, they avoid disclosing their views on their situation. Journalistic objectivity is often cited as the reason behind preventing those affected by conflict from telling their own stories. However, literature about multiculturalism and multimedia reporting shows that by collaborating across different communities, journalism can help address inequality.   

Seeking solutions

Many refugee and migrant journalists end up starting their own community publications after being unable to work for the mainstream media in their host countries. Some abandon the profession altogether. This issue is not unique to journalism, as underemployment is a banner issue for many Canadian immigrants.   

Several of the Syrian reporters I interviewed, sought alternative funding from international media outlets who didn’t attach conditions to their aid. Others tried using advertising, charging for content or getting donations from businessmen, but these often came with requests for editorial control.  

One reporter said “I think before we were fighting for independent media from the regime. Now we are fighting for independent media from everyone.” 

Members of the Syrian press in Turkey have formed alliances such as the Syrian Network of Print Journalists (SNP) to share expertise and facilities. Similarly in Canada, The Migrant recruits volunteer writers from different Arab communities, because many people in these communities are journalists in similar situations.  

Existing in a challenging time environment or panorama. refugee journalism still manages to help their communities have more agency in the international conversation about their lives. However, much needs to be done in Canada and abroad to ensure that refugees can exercise their right to freedom of expression. Refugee reporting funders need to respect the freedom of the press and provide realistic timeframes to their aid for these outlets to thrive and become self-sustaining. 

Finally, despite mainstream colonial definitions of objectivity, the people best suited to tell refugees’ stories are refugees themselves. 

Maria Assaf is a Canadian journalist and MA in Development and Emergency Practice. 

Published in Commentary

By: Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Immigration lawyers in Canada are warning about risks caused by the spread of misinformation as the Trump administration rolls back a U.S. government program that shielded illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors from deportation.

U.S. President Donald Trump formally announced on Tuesday the end of an Obama-era program that protected almost a million young people brought illegally into the country by their parents and granted them renewable two-year work permits, which will now begin to expire in early 2018.

While immigration lawyers said many clients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — widely known as “dreamers” — could be prime candidates for legal immigration to Canada, the challenge will be in making sure those looking to move are not getting faulty information about Canada’s immigration rules from unscrupulous immigration advisers or false reports. That’s what happened with thousands of Haitians earlier this summer when Trump threatened to rescind a program that lets those displaced by the earthquake in Haiti seven years ago live temporarily in the United States.

“These people are North American trained or brought up, so they have the skills to quickly adapt to the Canadian labour market or integrate into the post-secondary schooling system so there may in fact be some options for them,” said Betsy Kane, one of Canada’s top immigration lawyers and a partner at Capelle Kane.

“The only issue is if they are going to get misinformation from people trying to capitalize on their vulnerability and get sucked into a situation like the Haitians did, relying on potentially false information that would lure them into coming to make the wrong type of application to Canada.”

Roughly 7,000 asylum seekers, most of them Haitians from the U.S., have crossed into Canada since July. Some critics have accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not doing enough to prevent the surge; some have even accused him of being partly to blame for it.

A January tweet in which critics said the prime minister implied that Canada would welcome just about anyone — legal migrant or not — has increasingly come under fire, prompting the government into damage control mode in recent months.

Two weeks ago, Trudeau walked that welcome back in a series of tweets cautioning that while Canada is an open and diverse society, it also has immigration laws that must be obeyed.

Liberal MP and Whip Pablo Rodriguez also announced Wednesday he is heading to Los Angeles on Friday on a mission similar to that of MP Emmanuel Dubourg last month.

Following a surge of illegal Haitian migrants over the summer, the government sent Dubourg — who is himself of Haitian origin — to Miami to speak with Haitian community leaders and try to counter the flow of misinformation about how Canada’s immigration system works.

The government’s goal was to get a message across loud and clear: Not every refugee claim in Canada succeeds.

Now, Rodriguez is set to carry that same message to the other side of the country in a bid to stem a new wave of Mexican and Central American asylum seekers who are expected to be next to try and make the move north. Those people are in limbo now because of the possible end of temporary protected status for nearly 350,000 Salvadorans and Hondurans in the U.S. — a change that is unrelated to the rescinding of the DACA program but is similar in terms of how those affected might be influenced by misinformation.

Kane said the effort so far to counter the spread of bad information has been committed and social-media focused, which is exactly where it needs to be.

“I think it might be a more sophisticated group that’s not going to rely on WhatsApp or an internal rumours or community rumours as opposed to doing their research,” she said. “These are young people, they’re internet-savvy, and perhaps they’re going to spend a little more time getting the correct information, especially with all the social media that’s out there, because they’re all on social media. They’re young people, so that’s where they’re looking for information and CIC has been targeting social media.”

Many of those living in the U.S. under the DACA program are highly-educated and have skills that would make them prime applicants for the Express Entry system, Canada’s immigration scheme for skilled workers.

The question is whether those who want to use that route, or other legal options like applying for international student visas, will even be able to do so given the system overload caused by the influx of Haitians.

“The system is now overwhelmed,” said Julie Taub, an Ottawa immigration lawyer and former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. “It’s having an impact on the other applications and it’s creating a lot of resentment for those who are immigrating to Canada legitimately through the proper channels and for those who are legitimate refugee claimants.”

For now, Taub said, those Americans who may face deportation without DACA will be looking for the best way to wait for a reinstatement of the protection — and she expects Trump’s move to rescind the program eventually will be overturned.

“It’s beyond reason that he has taken this measure,” she said. “It’s ludicrous and I think it will be overturned.” 

By arrangement with 

Published in Top Stories

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa 

As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year. 

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border. 

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.” 

The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings. 

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already. 

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees. 

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance. 

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said. 

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees. 

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations. 

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival. 

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum. 

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status. 

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them. 

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said. 

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year. 

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs. 

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money. 

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors. 

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council. 

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. 

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.” 

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.  

Republished with permission from The Tyee.

Published in Politics

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

A graphic novel that creates awareness about sexual abuse among immigrant and refugee women has upped its print order barely a month after its launch in Ontario. The overwhelming demand has come from far beyond just refugee and immigrant-settlement groups. 

"We have requests from outside of the province, from other parts of the country as well as internationally," says Krittika Ghosh, senior coordinator of women sexual violence at Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI).

This demand is a clear indication that there is a dire need to help such women who are new to the country due to the scarcity of their resources. Smaller friend circles coupled with language barriers and limited education result in suffering in seclusion. 

Statistics tell that one in three women in Canada encounters sexual abuse or violence in one way or another.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"They range from people asking for one copy for a library, to some agencies asking for 500 copies in each language. So it's really unique."[/quote]

Breaking down barriers

Titled "Telling Our Stories: Immigrant Women's Resilience", the unique novel that is written by and for immigrant and refugee women looks to break down barriers that hinder the reporting of abuse. 

The project is a joint venture between the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) and Le Mouvement Ontarien des Femmes Immigrantes Francophones (MOFIF).

The novel, launched on March 2, illustrates four stories of newcomer women – victims of domestic abuse, workplace abuse, and date rape. The book helps create a narrative around this deeply sensitive topic and enables victims to empower themselves to shine a light on this often unreported crime. 

Unlike other story formats, the graphic novel was written with input gathered through workshops conducted with 40 immigrant or refugee women, who shared their stories and worked with illustrator Coco Guzman.

First-person accounts

"Each story is the outcome of a four-day workshop of newcomer or refugee women and many cases were survivors of sexual and intimate kind of violence," says Ghosh.

It helps people realize that there is no need to suffer in silence as help is available. 

It also challenges stereotypes of survivors and to show that they are resilient and capable of organizing to end violence themselves. 

Explaining the choice of format, Ghosh says, "We wanted it to be in a format that would be more available and accessible and something that people would want to read."

Growing demand

Professionals and groups beyond social workers, teachers, public libraries, immigrant and refugee welcome groups and the police are reaching out for the book.

The book is available free of cost and is not meant for sale.

The novel is available in 11 languages, including French and English.

OCASI and MOFIF had 7,000 copies in English, 3,000 in French and 1,000 in nine other languages including Arabic, Tamil, Chinese, Punjabi and Somali, in the first print run. The plan is to also have the stories available online.

OCASI website has an online form, where the book can be ordered. So far, it has received around 80 orders from different individuals and settlement agencies.

"They range from people asking for one copy for a library, to some agencies asking for 500 copies in each language. So it's really unique," according to Ghosh.

Fear of blame

The novel highlights that fear of blame, along with possibilities of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination never stopped these real-life characters from acting with courage and resilience. 

Intervention brings positive twists to these live stories. 

Kose's story revolves around deceit and marital rape accompanied by threats of deportation. Magali's story is based on workplace sexual abuse, whereas, Amal's story portrays student-teacher sexual harassment and Manuela's story is an illustration of date rape. 

In all of the stories there is a caring individual, whether it be a friend or relative, who intervenes with educational information. This portrays how people can counter violence against women by beginning conversations and taking action within their communities. 

Published in Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Canadian writers and educators are expressing a need for more children’s books about refugee and diaspora stories that reflect Canada’s diversity. 

“It was very difficult several years ago when we tried to promote diverse kids’ books,” says Sheila Koffman, who hosted the workshop “Diverse Kid Lit” at the first-ever Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, ON. Koffman has owned and managed Another Story Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Toronto, for nearly 30 years. 

“We started in a basement of a house,” she shares. “We went around [to] schools, doing presentations and selling books.”
When she first began as a bookseller, Koffman was the only one showcasing diverse books – an experience that she says was “very devastating” because of the criticism she faced and the challenge of low book sales.
Since then, things have improved. Her bookstore has received many invitations to do presentations at different school boards, who are now very welcoming of Koffman’s diverse children's literature.  

Stories of Canada’s kids

“There weren’t nearly enough diverse kids books in Canada,” Koffman says, adding she still relies on diverse children’s literature from England and the United States to stock her shelves. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more.”[/quote]

“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more,” says author and educator Nadia Hohn.
At the workshop, Hohn presented her children’s picture book Malaika’s Costume, a story loosely based on her childhood. The story starts with the first Caribbean Carnival that Malaika attends as a child 
after she moved to Canada with her mother. Hohn explains that many children, like Malaika, have come to Canada with their parents who must find work abroad to provide for their family.

“This is a fact for so many kids, not only Caribbean kids, but kids from so many ethnicities . . .” explains Hohn. “Growing up in Canada, a lot of children don’t know about how some of their classmates live. That’s their reality.” 

From Joseph’s Big Ride, about a child refugee’s bicycle dream, to Sex Is a Funny Word, which is about gender identity, human bodies and sexuality, Koffman introduced a few examples of diverse children’s literature authored or published by Canadians.
She says there are not enough books for youth that discuss mental health – particularly mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees.
Jael Richardson, Artistic Director of FOLD, introduced her new children’s book The Stone Thrower along with illustrator Matt James.
Based on a true story, The Stone Thrower tells of how Richardson’s father, Chuck Ealey, grew up in a poor and racially segregated community in Ohio and found refuge in Canada. The book’s cover features a photo of a young, Black man throwing a football. Ealey eventually became a professional player in the Canadian Football League.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side.”[/quote]

Supporting independent authors

Hohn attended Koffman’s presentation as the founder of Sankofa, a collective of authors of African and Caribbean descent. 

“I try to learn as much as I can to help me as an author and a writer,” explains Hohn. 

She says authors from diverse backgrounds need support to write books that fit the needs of children.

“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side,” Hohn explains. “Especially if you are self-published, you are paying for everything out-of-pocket.”

She adds that self-published writers face the additional challenge of not having their books showcased in certain bookstores and catalogues.

“Some libraries just started to accept some independently published books, so if most of the books published by Black authors are self-published and so many doors are closed, that means those books are not getting into where they need to,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country.”[/quote]

Diverse literature gaining momentum 

Hohn says she teaches in a school that has a mandate to reflect Black or Caribbean history, and believes all schools should reflect the diversity of Canada in their books. 

“I don't think we should wait for the books to reflect the kids. Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country,” she explains. 
FOLD, which Richardson says started two years ago in a coffee shop in downtown Brampton, is working toward this.
“Over the past year, provincial and municipal organizations, Canadian publishers, industry professionals, local companies, and community partners have stepped up to bring nearly 40 authors and performers to Brampton, delivering more than 30 sessions and events that showcase diverse Canadian literary talent and provide training for emerging writers,” Richardson says.

FOLD’s inauguration took place from May 6 to 8.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life at the hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiencing the local community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking steps towards integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

When you think of integrating refugees into a society, providing them with access to higher education is often considered less of a priority than food, shelter and medical care.

Some experts believe, though, that it’s especially important both for the economy of the host country and for the long-term recovery of war-torn communities and states.

Over the past many years, the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have displaced a large number of refugees aged 18 to 25 years old. These conflicts have resulted in crackdowns on universities in Egypt, closures of campuses in Yemen and Libya and bombings in Syria and Gaza, all of which have aggravated the plight of the educated youth.  

According to Hans de Wit, professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, higher education for these refugees should not be considered a challenge, but an opportunity.

De Wit explains, “Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees rather than putting them into camps, where they cannot learn, work or do anything.” 

He continues, “The alternative is to use their pre-educational skills and educate them further."

“[With] education, you give them perspective. The trauma is worst when you don’t give them any hope,” he adds. “Many of them have lived in camps for years and the end result is that they cannot go back.”

Refugees as an investment

De Wit’s report, "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Higher Education," suggests that politically-displaced victims, unlike economically-displaced refugees, are better educated and potentially easier to integrate in the labour market in receiving countries. 

This label applies to the current refugees escaping Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan, many of whom have been forced out of their countries due to violent conflict.

The report, coauthored by research professor and founding director of the Center, Philip Altbach, further suggests that while these refugees are often seen as victims and an economic burden, they offer new talent to the host country in the long run.

“Many media reports feature articulate, English-speaking young professionals from the Middle East expressing their hopes to continue their education or obtain skilled jobs and contribute to European economies,” it states. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees."[/quote]

The researchers argue that this is not merely advantageous for the refugees, but for the profile of the university they attend as well. It is a way to internationalize the campus, making it more competitive as a higher education institution.

Nadia Abu-Zahra from the University of Ottawa, says that be they students, researchers or professors, Syrian refugees are often top quality academics, and calls them an “intellectual wealth." 

“Refugees either landing in Norway, Denmark or Canada — whoever gets the highest number of these academics will have an incredible increase in their intellectual wealth” she says.

She insists, “If you are wise you will incur them. Those [academics] fled their home countries, will stay connected to international trends and will not only give back to the host country, but to the world.” 

Importance of the "lost generation"

In another report on Syrian students and scholars living in Lebanon, Keith David Watenpaugh describes them as the “lost generation” of college-age students.  

"The War Follows Them" states that there are up to 70,000 displaced university-age Syrian students in Lebanon. It estimates that only 10,000 of them are enrolled in Lebanese universities. Another 60,000 college-age Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and 70,000 are in Turkey. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Watenpaugh describes them as the  “lost generation” of college-age students.[/quote]

Watenpaugh highlights the need for international policy changes regarding higher education and its role in the rebuilding of war-zones. 

He states that “the war will end, but the young people who would be integral in rebuilding the country are being left behind.”

Watenpaugh stresses the need for increased research and aid for these populations to help post-conflict countries rebuild successfully.

“The focus on elementary education is important, but we must ask who the Syrian teachers in the future will be if we neglect the university students now,” says a UNESCO education specialist in the report. 

Rebuilding for the future

In their report, "The Importance of Higher Education for Syrian Refugees," Sansom Milton and Sultan Barakat speak about the challenges of restoration and the importance of higher education for refugees: “The severe toll that regional conflicts have taken on higher education is further compounded by a failure to appreciate the strategic role of the sector in stabilizing and promoting the recovery of war-torn communities and states.”

Their paper further emphasizes the abilities of the younger generation and says, “Higher education, properly supported, is able to act as a catalyst for the recovery of war-torn countries in the Arab world, not only by supplying the skills and knowledge needed to reconstruct shattered economic and physical infrastructure, but also by supporting the restoration of collapsed governance systems and fostering social cohesion.”

Milton and Barakat are advocating for international policy changes regarding higher education.

These changes would involve greater protection of academic institutions in times of war, augmented university networks to promote academic solidarity and more funding to rebuild higher education in the aftermath of conflict. 

This question will be debated by education leaders at the British Council’s Going Global 2016 conference in Cape Town in May.

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Published in Education

Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga 

Canada’s Minister for Immigration, John McCallum, made a startling announcement in Brampton. on Tuesday, about welcoming a whopping 305,000 permanent residents by the end of 2016. This is a 7.4 per cent increase from the 2015 admission target.

All this comes during a time of rising unemployment — namely, 7.2 per cent. Youth unemployment hovers at 13 per cent and the projected economic growth in 2016 is expected to just exceed one per cent.  

So, against this gloomy economic backdrop, the announcement of record high immigrant and refugee numbers leaves many, including me, wondering if there should be some co-relation between economic growth and immigration. 

While economic immigrants are made up of highly-skilled workers and caregivers, who may not be highly skilled but will still make up the majority of newcomers, McCallum's number will include 60,000 sponsored spouses, parents and children as well as 20,000 parents and grandparents by the end of the year. 

Historically, Canada has admitted between 251,600 to 262,200 immigrants every year, a number that was seen as striking the right balance between population and economic growth.

Going forward, it’s clear that the Liberals will be shifting the focus away from the economic class and placing a greater emphasis on bringing in more family-class immigrants, seniors and refugees. 

Skilled workers forced to take survival jobs

University of Toronto economist Peter Dungan points out in a Globe & Mail article that if Canada were to double the number of economic-class migrants only, average entry wages for all immigrants would rise by between five and six per cent. 

I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers in a rapidly evolving Canadian economy. Will a significant number of them be condemned to working at minimum wage?

I immigrated to Canada in 2000 under the now-defunct points system under a category of Writer/Journalist. Lawyers at that time encouraged people like me to find a “good job” on the understanding that after a short struggle, we would land well-paying employment. 

Reality struck when I got to Canada and heard heartbreaking stories about men and women who held good jobs back in the old countries, only to be crushed and broken after being forced into survival jobs in order to put food on the table. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers.[/quote]

I've met dozens of former doctors, engineers and accountants working in factories or other dead-end jobs simply because their credentials weren’t recognized. No one would give them "Canadian experience". For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.

Then Harper’s Conservatives came along in 2006 and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney drastically overhauled the immigration system, bringing in skilled refugees and calibrating immigration to support the country’s specific economic needs

I am sure that if I applied for immigration under the revised system brought in by the Conservatives, I might not have been eligible to immigrate to Canada. That would've been fair, because, looking back, letting hundreds of immigrants into the country like myself when there were no real jobs now looks like a case of false advertising. 

Concerns over competition and economic burdens

When I speak with new Canadians who’ve struggled to find their professional footing in Canada about more immigrants, seniors and refugees being accepted as permanent residents, they aren’t very thrilled by the news. Unless, of course, they’re sponsoring family or senior parents. 

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that an acquaintance who spoke out against bringing in more seniors had herself sponsored her parents ten years earlier to Canada. 

In previous estimates, a set of grandparents can cost the system $400,000. Statistics have pegged sponsored parents and grandparents as receiving, on average, $6,262 in Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments plus $1,381 in other government transfers each year.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.[/quote]

Many Canadians, new and old, who are struggling to keep or find jobs are wary about having to compete with new waves of job seekers. One parent I spoke to thought it might be a good idea to reduce immigration numbers until the economy improved. She was also opposed to foreign student workers because they’re often willing to work for less than minimum wage. 

And in any case, a large percentage of the almost 350,000 international students currently studying in the country have every intention of becoming permanent residents. For many South Asians and Asians in particular, coming to Canada as an international student is just another way to immigrate. 

Many immigrant parents with university-going children stay awake at night, worrying that their children may not find jobs once they graduate. How are they supposed to feel optimistic about Canada bringing in more immigrants who will likely compete with them as well as their children for a limited number of jobs?

Considering this, economic indicators should also be factored in when setting annual immigration quotas.

Bringing newcomers into a broken system

I often wonder how practical it is to have a large number of immigrants come in without taking into account the state of the economy. While I get it that Canada needs immigration in order to keep its economic engine running, I worry that the immigrants and refugees now being admitted into the country could end up being a burden on the system.

How can an immigrant contribute to the economic success of the country if he or she is not working at their full potential or is not working at all? That will be the likely fate of so many new immigrants in the years to come.

Meanwhile, it is the over-burdened taxpayer who is obliged to pitch in at a time when their own job security is shaky.

Pradip Rodrigues is currently the editor of Can-India, a weekly newspaper and website catering to the South Asian diaspora in the GTA. He immigrated to Canada in 2000 and currently lives with his wife and young son in Mississauga. Prior to coming to Canada, he was the Assistant Editor at Bombay Times, then the city section of the Times of India. 

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Published in Commentary

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga 

New innovative employment programs aim to integrate government-assisted refugees (GARs) into the Canadian labour market.

At the Employment Pathways for Refugees forum at the 18th Metropolis conference 2016 in Toronto, experts discussed how to help refugees find work, not only to help them earn money but also to provide them with a sense of belonging in society. 

This is one of several challenges presented by the current large-scale refugee influx that were at the forefront of the panelists’ discussion. These included cultural, language and low-skill barriers. 

To tackle these barriers, the private sector is implementing innovative pilot projects based on the demographics and needs of GARs during their first year in Canada. 

Creative inclusion of Syrian refugees in BC

The British Colombia Construction Association (BCCA) is one organization with programs to integrate GARs in the B.C. construction industry. The association represents 2,000 employers in the industry.  

Abigail Fulton, vice president of the BCCA, explained that the program starts by identifying an existing employee who can speak English and Arabic. With the help of the worker, they identify individuals within refugees groups, assess their abilities, create a pod of workers and help them get their first jobs in Vancouver’s construction industry. 

“We just started and identified two pods, one as carpenters and one as roofers,” she says. “These people can have a Canadian experience and a sense of belonging as they move on in the construction industry.”

She said the employers are happy too, as they get to hire people with good experience and who are trained by a bilingual employee.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These people can have Canadian experience and a sense of belonging."[/quote]

According to Fulton, there is lot of potential in the province's construction industry based on the projects that are being implemented. She suggests that there will be 45,000 openings in the industry over the next few years.

“Syrians are here just in the nick of time. They have the background of the industry and we want to take advantage of that.”

Government programs 

At the same time, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s Policy Innovation Division is planning to test more than 50 projects across the country this fiscal year, all under $5,000 each. 

“We have to test with new partners, new models [as to] how can we get Syrian refugees into labour market,” says Natasha Pateman, director of Policy Innovation Division.

The projects work with 500 organization across Canada and aim to tackle the large-scale refugee influx in the future, particularly regarding refugees with low skills and low language abilities. In addition, they intend to help children and women with integration and language support. 

“We will test how we can provide programming for children and teach them English and French, provide adults with social connections and employment connections in a great variety all across the country,” she says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Syrians are here just in the nick of time."[/quote]

“One of the groups I am working with that provides entrepreneurship facilities to newcomers, they are planning to work with refugee women who want to sew again. We were able to purchase a couple of sewing machines and will now upgrade their skills,” says Pateman

The process of identifying opportunities goes through the National Settlement council, after which settlement working groups further distribute information through their networks. 

“Probably in a week, we might have all the contracts done. Then it will take some time to call in lists based on teams and geographical locations,” Pateman explains.

She elaborated on some of the projects that were tested last year, including one with Syrian refugee women in St John’s, Newfoundland.

It was based on identifying different herbs and spices that Syrians use in their foods that are not available in the province. These women were taken to local Sobeys and Bulk Barn grocery stores to find similar items so that they could prepare food from their culture. 

“It was an interesting way of social interaction and establishing connections,” adds Pateman.

She says they are talking to both women and men about opportunities in Canada and getting them into the labour market. “We talk to their husbands to let their wives work outside. It’s not negative in Canada, or negative to leave your child at daycare,” she adds.

Employment provides psychological support

Attendees suggested that it’s important from the mental health perspective to integrate traumatized refugees into society. 

Dr. Michaela Hynie of York University said this is very important both for one’s sense of belonging in Canada and to feel like one is respected in the society. 

“When we think why employment is important, its not just the contribution to a family as income, but also important for other kinds of integration outcomes,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]IRCC’s Policy Innovation Division is planning to test more than 50 projects this fiscal year[/quote]

While she complimented the idea of devising creative ways for refugees to access employment, Hynie says she thinks the employment sector will have to learn more about the challenges refugees face when looking for work.

“Employment is important whether it provides adequate income, whether the employment is secure or whether the employment can provide opportunities for development and growth. It’s important for the individual and for the Canadian society as a whole,” she concludes.  

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Published in Top Stories

by Florence Hwang in Regina

With the current influx of refugees coming to Canada, academic researchers are studying immigrants’ resiliency — their ability to overcome hurdles and challenges — so that they can help future immigrants adapt to their new environment.

Daniel Kikulwe is an associate professor at the University of Regina in the Social Work department. He and assistant professor Donalda Halabuza are working on a study about what factors help immigrants make the transition to Canadian life — specifically in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Similar studies have been conducted in other provinces, like Alberta and Ontario, but none in Saskatchewan.

“I think it’s really important because since 2007, at least according to the statistics that we’re looking at, there’s been an increase in the number of newcomer families coming to Saskatchewan, so that might give [us] some level of awareness of what helps people through that transition,” says Kikulwe, who originally is from Uganda.

Implications of the research

The researchers will study immigrants who have been living in Regina for at least five years, so they say they won’t include the most recent wave of refugees in their considerations. 

The study will look at 20 individuals and examine a range of factors for adjustment, such as food, weather, school registration and access to health services.

Kikulwe hopes the study will be completed within the year. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"There’s been an increase in the number of newcomer families coming to Saskatchewan."[/quote]

“We are waiting for ethics approval to proceed to the next stage of gathering data or interviewing the heads of the households of refugee families who have been settled in Regina for at least five years,” says Donalda Halabuza, who is the principal researcher of this study.

The study will look at a combination of immigrants from different countries and backgrounds with the intention of being able to apply the current research to future immigration and refugee situations. 

“That will give us a good understanding of different experiences,” Kikulwe says.

Kikulwe is particularly interested in civil countries where there is high incidence of violence and from where Canada might accept future refugees. “It could be from one of those countries that we’ll be looking at, for example, Rwanda because of the war, or Sudan,” he says.

Need for resettlement services

The topic of immigrant resilience and the need for resettlement services is of growing interest to many Canadian researchers.

Bruce Newbold, professor and director of the School of Geography and Earth Sciences at McMaster, recently wrote an article looking at the resilience of immigrant women in Hamilton. The paper, which he worked on with two of his students, Karen Chung and Ellie Hong, was titled “Resilience Among Single Adult Female Refugees in Hamilton, Ontario".

Newbold began his research to discover whether immigrant women were particularly vulnerable or more vulnerable than other segments within the population. 

“How are they coping? How are they doing? Are they just as resilient but using a different set of support mechanisms or are they falling through the cracks?” asks Newbold.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“That will give us a good understanding of different experiences."[/quote]

The study found that all participants were dependent on sources of support such as NGOs and the government when adjusting to life in Canada. Personal characteristics such as their resourcefulness, determination and strength also played a role in their resettlement.

Because of these findings, Newbold has been working with the City of Hamilton to make resources available to new arrivals and service providers, such as by translating materials to make them more accessible.

“Timing is critical. There’s so much going on in the early days when people first arrive. In part, we see some of that discussion around the arrivals of the Syrians in Canada,” he says. 

Because immigrants require so many services — whether it be finding a job or getting a referral to health or mental health resources — when integrating into Canadian society, Newbold thinks a one-stop-shop would best serve all immigrants.

Current assistance in Saskatchewan

One settlement agency that is attempting to offer many services to newcomers is the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council (MJMC).

Stefanie Palmer, executive director with MJMC, says her organization offers services for immigrants ranging from picking them up from the airport, to finding accommodations for them, to setting them up with language services, to helping them adjust to Canadian culture and society. 

“We work on a settlement plan with them. So if they have young children, we try to set them up with different programming throughout the community. Our biggest goal is community integration,” Palmer says.

Other organizations like the Regina Immigrant Women’s Centre (RIWC) offer various services under one roof, but with special accommodations for women, such as child-minding, so they can attend English classes, pre-employment programs or employment counselling.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Our biggest goal is community integration."[/quote]

While there are government organizations set up to help new immigrants settle in, it seems that they aren’t able to fill all the needs of new immigrants, notes Newbold. In his research, he has found that community organizations have been filling that gap. 

While Newbold cited many instances of successful integration in Canada, he says not everyone will be resilient like the subjects interviewed for his study. 

“Not everyone is going to have that personal strength. In part, it allowed us to say, ‘How can we try to ensure the resiliency and the reception, to make sure it’s a positive reception? What can we strengthen?’ We can think about what groups we want to work with or what [we] should be saying to groups [and] service providers,” he says.

Kikulwe hopes this study will give hope to newcomers who are worried about establishing a life in Canada. 

“There’s a silver lining,” he says.

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Published in Top Stories

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