Refugees and Migrants II – The Logistics

I said yesterday that someone needs to talk about the logistics involved in Canada opening its doors to an increased number of refugees fleeing the war in Syria. It is not enough just to be moved by the pictures, there are practical considerations.

Canada took in 40,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1979-1980, a number made possible by an outpouring of support from communities across the country. The Canadian model is different from anywhere else in the world, or so I have been told, a model that was developed then I presume. Canada is supposedly unique in that it allows private refugee sponsorship. Show the federal government that you have the resources to provide support for a year and you get your very own refugee family to take care of. Thirty-five years ago it seems pretty much every church in the country sponsored a Vietnamese family, and many service clubs and community groups did as well.

There are fewer Christians today I think than there were then, which may reduce the number of those willing to take on such a project. People are lining up to show their support though. But there are other numbers that need to be crunched as we open the borders a little wider.

New Canadians, refugees or immigrants, need support to be successful. I am making what I think is a justified assumption that most coming here as refugees speak neither English nor French, our two national languages. They will need translation services. Lots of translation services. They will need to learn how we do things, simple things such as using public transit, shopping for groceries or opening a bank account. It may be different from the way things were done back home. They will need classes to learn our local language(s). We will need to find the resource people to help them resettle.

I know someone who recently was invited to visit a refugee family’s apartment, a family who had been here for a few years. She was surprised to discover that they still cook as they did in their homeland, using a grill with burning coals underneath. That is problematic when you consider they live in a high rise apartment building – there are all sorts of safety issues, for them and their neighbours. There was a stove in kitchen, unused. Adapting to Canadian ways of living isn’t always easy. It’s tough to do it without a lot of help. Taking in more refugees would need to mobilize people as perhaps never before.

I also wonder if it is that easy for newcomers to adapt to Canada when living in an urban environment. We have seen a lot of clustering, especially in recent years, of newcomers to Canada. There is a feeling of security that comes with grouping together with those who speak the same language, have the same traditions. But with that benefit comes a big drawback – it becomes possible to live in an ethnic cloister and never integrate into the larger society. I don’t know if that is healthy for individuals or the society as a whole.

From what I have read, housing is at a premium in our cities at the moment. I am not sure there is sufficient supply to take in an influx of 25,000 or 50,000 people that some have called for. But Canada is a big country. Why not offer refugees housing in smaller localities? Anecdotally at least, people there have a tendency to be friendlier than city dwellers anyway. Being in smaller communities would, I think, help newcomers to become integrated into Canadian society and reduce the likelihood of them never straying outside their own ethnic group.

If Canada is going to open its doors to refugees, whether they be from Syria or elsewhere, someone needs to think about how we are going to accommodate these new Canadians, to figure out what is best for them and for all of us.

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