Tag Archives: Syrian immigration

No room at the inn


A dangerously divisive tendency raises its ugly head whenever people’s lives are on the line. It’s understandable. But that should not mean that we succumb to the point-counter-point of public stupidity.

When the mayors of Moncton and Fredericton, New Brunswick, ask the federal government to slow the stream of Syrian refugees into their urban areas, they do so with heavy hearts, not light heads.

They do so because their own community advisors have told them that their cities are simply not equipped to accommodate hundreds of newcomers in such a short period.

They do so because they know that those who will suffer most are not the apartment complex owners or hoteliers, but the refugees, themselves – the last people anyone wants to see jumping from the Middle Eastern frying pan into the cold, baleful fire of a late Maritime winter.

Yet, here we are, witnessing another disgraceful display of politics-as-usual in New Brunswick.

In a speech earlier this month, Premier Brian Gallant took a backhanded swipe at both Moncton and Fredericton city officials, declaring, “First off, we should remind ourselves that taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do. We have a role to play as a country to help these people who are living in a terrible situation. Secondly, this is good for New Brunswick. We have an aging population – more people means more people in our workforce, more people buying and our economy expanding.”

With all due respect Mr. Premier, but have you spent any time in the communities you purport to represent?

No one, and I mean no one, is raising the ugly specter of xenophobia (even as you quite casually equate desperate refugees with a jobs-boom opportunity in the province).

Syrian newcomers across this province, this country, are bivouacking in hotels where there’s nothing to do, no one to talk to, no schools to speak of, and little food they can tolerate. Community leaders and charitable groups are running themselves ragged not to bend over to refugee demands, but to compensate for the appalling lack of logistical support from all levels of the Canadian government – especially the federal one.

As Rouba Al-Fattal, a part-time professor of Middle East and Arab politics at the University of Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail recently,How many of the first 25,000 (Syrians) have been resettled (in Canada), and how effectively will they be helped?

“More than 1,000 of the newcomers are living in temporary housing. And we still have a shortage of family doctors, a lack of proper dental care for low-income adults and a lack of subsidized daycare spaces for parents who want to learn English. University-age refugees, or those who already have foreign degrees, can’t afford our postsecondary system, sending many to low-income jobs instead. What future do refugees have without proper language training, Canadian education or Canadian work experience?”

The knee-jerk reaction of politicians – if you’re against our latest, bumble-headed policies, programs and procedures to lighten the load on the most disadvantaged among us, then you must be against the most disadvantaged among us – is rhetoric at its most despicable.

Governments: Fix the housing problem, the educational problem, the social integration problem, the language problem for refugees and immigrants, alike. That’s how you make earnest citizens, frankly, of everyone.

As for the vast majority of Moncton and Fredericton residents, we can’t wait to provide this new wave of newcomers everything a decent, tolerant life in a peaceful, open society offers.

We just wish our federal government, and some of its provincial mouthpieces, had come to the same conclusion.

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The exodus conundrum


As Canadians wring their hands and gnash their teeth over the arrival of as many as 25,000 refugees from strife-ridden Syria, the conversation inevitably turns to a sometimes irresponsible and xenophobic question of whether we want them.

To be clear and to our credit, most of us say we do. Our country is, after all, one of the world’s last remaining go-to places for people who are, through no fault of their own, in deep trouble.

Lately, though, the other shoe has fallen: Do Syrians want us?

A rather distressing, yet revealing, report in the Globe and Mail earlier this month suggests that more Syrians than we’d like to admit are saying “no” to the Great White North – fearing the effect of cultural and linguistic differences, the lack of good, durable employment opportunities, and even Canada’s rather parsimonious social policy regarding the disposition of foreign nationals in this country over the past decade.

According to the Globe piece by Sara Elizabeth Williams, reporting from Amman, the capital of Jordan, “Omayma al-Kasem. . .is one of a sizeable number of Syrians turning down the chance to become permanent residents of Canada. UN figures (show that) just three out of every 10 households contacted about resettlement in Canada go on to relocate.”

Although Ms. al-Kasem – a well-educated, 26-year-old, fourth-year law student – readily describes her life and that of her family, effectively hiding from harm’s way in Jordan, as “the lowest level of hell”, apparently that’s better than taking a chance on a cold, strange nation half-a-world-away from everything she knows and still cherishes.

She must, she says, “think like a mom.” In her case, she reveals, “In Jordan we are already separated from my two sisters who are in Syria. If we went to Canada we would have to leave my brother, his wife and their baby. I don’t want to separate my family any further. . .Even in the move from Syria to Jordan, we lost some connection to our religion. If we go to Canada, how can I raise my little sisters in a language and culture I don’t understand?”

Aoife McDonnell, an external relations officer at the UNHCR refugee agency in Jordan, provides the broader context: “Some families are still hoping to return home, others are concerned about their ability to integrate into another country.”

Still complicating matters is the recent transition in Canada’s federal government, from avowedly Conservative to Liberal, just since October. What are potential newcomers from every background to make of the molten lava of our national policy towards them?

For New Brunswick, which has agreed to welcome hundreds of Syrian refugees, the response must be something better than the national standard.

We have jobs that need filling, homes that need building, ideas that need spreading, and hopes that need fulfilling. We must craft the ways and means to assure the next wave of immigrants to this province that we understand – and are prepared to deliver – what they need to survive in the short term and thrive in the long one.

What, in fact, do we have to offer Syrians in New Brunswick? Winter coats and boots are fine. But what of the job and career opportunities? What of educational, linguistic and cultural assistance initiatives?

The single imperative on which all intelligent citizens in this province must concur is immigration. To achieve our commercial and fiscal goals, we simply need more people from around the world to find our friendly place economically efficacious. And we want them to stay.

The question is: How do we persuade them that we’re serious?

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