by Eyob Naizghi, The Vancouver Sun
Opinion: Canada has well-managed, purposeful immigration system
These are difficult, perhaps even dangerous, times for immigrants or, even worse, refugees. The most recent immigration order from the new US administration and the tragic killing of innocent people in a Quebec City Mosque have created fear and uncertainty, not only for those targeted and the newcomers we are serving at MOSAIC, but for all of us who are committed to building welcoming and inclusive communities.
But, we should not despair. I arrived in Canada as a refugee 36 years ago with a document that described me as “stateless”. I have kept it in a safe place all these years because it symbolizes, for me, people’s resiliency and Canada’s commitment over the decades to welcoming and supporting refugees.
Yes, immigration is a contentious issue in Canada with a checkered history but, however difficult and painful our history is, there are a number of things that make Canada a beacon in a world of growing “protectionism” and “nationalism”, a world that pits one group against another on the basis of country of origin or faith.
Canada has a well-managed and purposeful immigration system, a system with checks and balances that ensures the country’s security and safety and approves applicants who add value to the country.
We welcome and support newcomers because we want them to stay and be active participants in our society. These are what I commonly refer to as our social and political infrastructure. It is unique to Canada, and has given us a leading edge in attracting immigrants and refugees to our country.
At the policy level, we have guidance from all levels of government on how we should treat each other. Academics and policy gurus use words such as diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, empowerment, welcoming and integration to describe our discourse and public engagement. That has meant for me as a Black African meeting someone for the first time, that it has been almost 25 years since I‘ve heard “I have a black neighbour”. Despite new evidence that suggests Canadian attitudes to immigrants and refugees are not as positive as we would like to believe, we have created the space to acknowledge our differences and our common values.
Our practice of supporting immigrants and refugees through a network of publicly funded community-based service providers is based on the idea that integration enriches Canadian values and culture. With a history of four decades of service, MOSAIC is one of the leading service providers. Our vision of “Empowering newcomers to fully participate in Canadian society” means we do not see immigrants and refugees as economic widgets, rather as social assets that will contribute
to strengthening Canadian society. Be it job search services, teaching English, providing help finding housing or schooling, running a support group with at risk families, all the services MOSAIC runs through 300 employees and 500 volunteers from 12 sites in Metro Vancouver has contributed to the establishment of healthy communities. Although these services are important and unique in the world, they need to be accompanied by actions that lead to lasting systemic change. When I look at the work I’ve been deeply involved with at MOSAIC for a significant part of my working life, it is the public engagement and policy advocacy work of MOSAIC that has contributed the most to creating an environment for newcomers to flourish in Canada.
This past year is a good example of Canadian engagement with a global crisis. As a nation and as communities, we responded to the horrific conflict in Syria with compassion. Within geographical constraints and within the Canadian immigration framework, people of all stripes mobilized to help. As a vanguard organization for refugees, MOSAIC supported the settlement of refugees in the Lower Mainland and assisted individuals and groups who were willing to sponsor Syrian and other refugee families. We worked with synagogues, churches, mosques, and non-aligned groups who were willing and able to step forward.
I have painted a somewhat rosy picture of the Canadian system but I do not want to diminish the challenges we face. We have discrimination and racism in Canada; too many internationally trained professionals are driving cabs and sweeping floors, and more. But despite our shortcomings, we have something good going on in Canada that we can share with the world. We have a strong immigration framework. If we safeguard it during this era of “populism” and continue to expand the engagement space, Canada will continue to be world leader in newcomer integration for the next 150 years.
Eyob Naizghi is executive director of MOSAIC, a registered charity serving immigrant, newcomer and refugee communities in Metro Vancouver.