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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
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 ipolitics.ca.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
OTTAWA—Delays in the resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey to Canada are likely to grow even longer after a failed coup attempted there last week.
Securing exit permits for Syrians in Turkey had already been a difficult process, holding up the Liberal government’s plans last fall to resettle thousands of people from there as part of their landmark program to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada in a matter of months.
THE City of Surrey hosted a Welcome Day for new refugees at City Hall on Wednesday. The family-oriented event was held to welcome the newcomers and encourage their participation in the community. Equally important, the Welcome Day provided another opportunity for community engagement between residents and the newcomers to Surrey.
“We are proud to host this Welcome Day for the new refugees who now call Surrey home,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. “The City of Surrey celebrates its diversity and inclusiveness. The generosity and goodwill the new refugees have come across in Surrey will go a long way in helping them achieve success in our City.”
WASHINGTON—A Canadian politician offered a positive view of the country’s experiences with Syrian refugees during a July 11 briefing session south of the border, where the current political climate is far less welcoming of migrants.
Arif Virani shared some observations about Canada’s experience during a briefing session on Capitol Hill attended by a number of U.S. congressional staffers and moderated by the Washington bureau chief of The Economist magazine.
by Robin Arthur in Halifax
The global community will observe World Refugee Day on June 20 to call attention to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. There are now about 60 million people displaced around the world.
In Canada, the Humanitarian Coalition has launched a national campaign to generate funds. The campaign “Help Them Dream Again” aims to mobilize all Canadians in support of refugees worldwide. The campaign has already enlisted the backing of key corporate and media partners and Canadian businesses are joining the effort.
CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Quebec, Plan International Canada and Save the Children are collaborating with partners including the UNHCR Canada, World Vision Canada, Islamic Relief Canada and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to meet the urgent needs of refugees and displaced people worldwide.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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VANCOUVER – The BC Government has announced that MOSAIC will lead the Metro Vancouver Refugee Response Team (RRT). The organization will convene a community RRT comprised of 38 diverse memberships, to include: private sponsorship groups; settlement service agencies; healthcare providers; education organizations; social service agencies; the business sector; Syrian community; and municipal staff to identify [...]
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