Refugee resettlement takes a lot of work
by Candice Malcolm
September 16, 2015
TORONTO - Opposition and activist voices in the media continue to demand Canada open its borders to accept many more Syrian refugees.
These demands range anywhere from admitting thousands more, to hundreds of thousands, to “as many as would like to come.”
Aside from the logistical challenges associated with doing background checks, ID verifications and interviews from inside war zones, Canada also needs to consider the big picture of refugee resettlement.
Welcoming newcomers from a bloody and traumatic civil war carries a new set of problems for both the host society and refugees; some of which may last longer than the civil war itself.
For example, look at the difficulties facing some in the Somali community here in Canada.
A devastating civil war has been waged in Somalia for the better part of three decades.
Canada has led the world in its generous efforts to resettle Somali refugees.
Canada now has one of the largest Somali diasporas in the West, with estimates as high as 150,000 residents.
These people fled a war and sought refuge in Canada. The result, however, has at times been anything but peaceful.
More than 50 young Somali men have been murdered over the past decade in Alberta and Ontario alone.
This includes high-profile shootings, such as the 2012 one in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, when Ahmed Hassan was shot to death and four others were wounded by gunfire in the food court on a busy Saturday afternoon.
According to a group that works with the Somali community, there have been 23 shootings in Vancouver’s suburbs this summer.
The RCMP says they are connected to turf wars between rival gangs.
The sad reality is some young Somali men, including some born in Canada, have had difficulty finishing school or finding work, and turned to gangs and drug trafficking instead.
This does not mean every Somali refugee in Canada is involved with crime.
There are many positive stories about Somalis who have served as role models in their communities, and many who are excellent additions to our country.
But even the most successful, among them poet and rapper K’naan, acknowledges the Somali community faces tremendous problems.
In an interview with the CBC, K’naan talked about having to cope with violence and murder within the community in Canada.
He was asked if he has lost more people in Toronto than Somalia.
“No,” he said, “but it’s rivalling.”
K’naan, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in the war, says he appreciates his life in Canada, but also believes many Somalis don’t do very well here.
Studies seem to echo this view.
A 2013 report from York University found a “lack of language proficiency and professional training” have resulted in many in the Somali community living in poverty.
Canada was generous in admitting refugees from Somalia, but we haven’t provided the follow up needed to help integrate and support members of the community.
Successful integration takes a tremendous amount of engagement from civil society, not to mention programs to provide language lessons, skills training and education.
Rather than being closed off and isolated, newcomers must be encouraged and welcomed to participate in the greater community.
Admitting refugees into Canada is just the first step in a long process of resettlement and integration.
If Canada is to welcome large numbers of Syrian refugees, we should do so with our eyes open.
We should plan first and admit second.