How Syrian refugees to Canada have fared since 2015

Early indications for Syrian refugees. Given timing of Census (about a year after arrival), too early to draw definite conclusions. However the longer term analysis of refugee economic outcomes, broken down by private sponsorship and government selected, along with country of birth, are more interesting and informative:

The life of a refugee can be many things—dangerous, wearying, heart-rending, boring, nerve-racking, expensive and full of countless unexpected challenges to overcome. It also appears to be quite noisy.

Right now, for instance, the Kitchener, Ont., apartment of Jehad and Baraa Badr is cacophonous—much of it baby noise. Their older son, Hussam, has dropped by with grandson Zain for a playdate with a neighbour’s young child, who is also visiting. Younger son, Adam, makes his own contribution to the din. As do various electronic devices: some reminders for prayer time, others bringing texts and phone calls from friends and family. Rising above all this clamour, however, is Jehad’s exuberant account of the wonders of life in Canada, his gratitude for the help his family has received so far and his many plans for the future.

“I love being here. I love my friends. I love Canada,” he says loudly and with enthusiasm, his expressive body language making up for obvious struggles with language. “Good equality in Canada. Good government. No Syria government. No help.”

After spending three years in Egypt and Turkey—having left war-torn Syria behind in 2012—Jehad, Baraa and nine-year-old Adam arrived in southwestern Ontario in spring 2016 as part of the massive wave of Syrian refugees admitted into Canada following the last federal election. Hussam and his young family arrived a month later. Two other sons, however, will never arrive. Frustrated by the long wait in Egypt, they paid smugglers to take them across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then made their way to Austria, where they now live permanently.

This separation of their family is just one of the many tests the Badrs have had to endure since fleeing their homeland. As with the rest of the more than 50,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada since 2015, settling into Canadian society requires grappling with the many cultural nuances and obligations of their new home. But most significantly, it means mastering a new language and finding employment. “I need a job,” says Jehad, 59, in his halting, declarative style. “I need English. But job and school? Problem.” It is a problem with both personal and political implications.

If there was a single defining issue of the 2015 federal election, it was debate over the proper national response to the Syrian refugee crisis—a question seared into our collective consciousness by that heart-wrenching photo of young Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body being carried away on a Turkish beach.

Demands for a political response to the humanitarian emergency immediately changed the course of the federal campaign. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government would take a total of 10,000 additional Syrian refugees—arguing that to accept any more would create security risks—while maintaining Canada’s military presence in the Middle East as a check on further crises. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau upped this to 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, and vowed to withdraw our squadron of CF-18s. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair topped both of his competitors by saying he’d accept 46,000 over several years, as well as end Canada’s military contribution.

In the end, Canadian voters apparently found Trudeau’s offer of 25,000 refugees the most persuasive. And while he failed to make good on his initial deadline, the Prime Minister’s goal was realized by mid-2016. Since then, the flow has slowed but is nowhere near stopping. The most recent count of Syrian refugees admitted into Canada since the election stands at 58,650, exceeding even Mulcair’s highest bid. For this effort, Canada has earned many admirers. “Thank God for Canada!” read a headline in the New York Times this year, lamenting the fact America under President Donald Trump had accepted only 12,000 Syrian refugees.

But taking in large numbers of refugees to widespread international acclaim is one thing. Integrating them successfully for their own happiness and well-being, and to prevent any urgent political or social issue, is quite another. With nativist sentiment rising around the world, and with the emergence of irregular refugees as a new hot-button political issue in the upcoming federal election, it seems both appropriate and necessary to check on the progress of the class of 2015/16. So how are Canada’s Syrian refugees doing?

Statistics Canada recently took a close look at that first cohort of 25,000 Syrian refugees who landed as of May 10, 2016. Employment is the most important metric by which to gauge the integration of refugees into Canadian society. And here the news seems rather disappointing. Only 24 per cent of adult male Syrian refugees were working, according to census data. For government-sponsored male refugees (as opposed to those sponsored by charities, churches or other private organizations), the employment rate was a mere five per cent. These figures are substantially below the 39 per cent average for male refugees from other countries. The gap between female Syrian refugees and those from other countries is equally significant: eight per cent versus 17 per cent.

Such low rates of employment are largely explained by the demographics and timing of the Syrian refugee cohort. In response to the humanitarian crisis, Canada adjusted its acceptance criteria to include more young families with children and fewer working-age males. Standards for language skills and education were also lowered. More than half the Syrian refugees could not speak an official language, compared to just 28 per cent of refugees from other countries. Among adults, less than half had even a high school diploma. (Neither Jehad nor Baraa Badr are high school graduates.)

For Bessma Momani, professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the relatively poor performance of the Syrian refugees in finding work is entirely understandable given their profile. “Canada did a good job of targeting the most vulnerable people,” she says. “This group includes semi-skilled and mostly uneducated people. Some were also injured.” It makes sense that a group chosen for humanitarian reasons would take longer to find their footing in a new country than migrants selected for their employability, she says. Plus, it’s still early days. Many of the Syrian refugees had been in Canada for only a few weeks or months when the census was taken. It would be a supreme accomplishment for anyone to have found a job and learned a new language in such a short time.

As for political fears raised during the 2015 election about security risks and the national capacity to absorb such a large influx of refugees, Momani notes time has proven such claims misplaced. “Canada is a big country with a lot of capacity,” she says. “The debate between 10,000 and 25,000 was really just an arbitrary distinction since we have now taken in over 50,000.” And she highlights how popular providing aid to Syrian refugees proved to be among voters. “I think that surprised many Canadian politicians,” she adds.

Syria’s diaspora may no longer be the dominant political topic in Canada, but refugees remain a key election issue—except that now it’s marked by a growing note of skepticism. After years of pressure from federal Conservatives over the influx of more than 40,000 irregular refugees through unauthorized border crossings, mostly in Quebec, the Trudeau government is now adopting a much tougher stance toward these asylum seekers. The 2019 federal budget, for example, proposes to take away their right to a full refugee hearing; it also boosts funding for border measures to “detect and intercept individuals who cross Canadian borders irregularly.” These irregular border-crossers are mostly from Africa and the Caribbean, not the Middle East.

In another recent development signifying a change in mood toward refugees, the 2019 Ontario budget eliminates all legal aid funding for refugee and immigration programs.

As for the long-term consequences of Canada’s mostly generous approach to refugees, another recent StatsCan study looked at all 830,000 refugees who entered Canada between 1980 and 2009 and found their employment and earnings tend to improve slowly over time, but with some significant variations. Refugees who were privately sponsored seem to do better than those sponsored by the federal government, but this difference evaporates after about a decade.

One puzzle that appears permanent, however, is the role played by culture in the integration process. After 15 years in Canada, StatsCan notes that refugees from certain countries (Yugoslavia, Poland, Colombia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and El Salvador) had earnings largely indistinguishable from immigrants accepted on strict economic criteria. But refugees from some other countries (Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China) appear to do noticeably worse, even after accounting for factors such as education, language skills and age. StatsCan admits it has no real answer as to why such differences persist.

It is perhaps too soon to tell which category the Syrian refugees will fall into, but the early figures show those who arrived in late 2015 are already more likely to have a job than those who came a few months later, suggesting a fairly rapid process of integration. “I think we’ll see a lot of new small businesses coming out of this group of Syrian refugees,” says Momani, noting anecdotally that the national shawarma shop sector appears to be undergoing substantial growth. “I suspect by the next census, the numbers [of employed Syrian refugees] will have greatly improved. There is a lot of early success out there.”

Of course the biggest barrier to early success in the job market remains language. And this often requires some difficult choices for newcomers to Canada.

Shortly after arriving in southwestern Ontario, Jehad [Badr] enrolled in an English language school located in the basement of Waterloo’s First United Church, which supported his family’s refugee claim. “First six months, I go to English school. But I need job. I have rent. You need money,” says Jehad, who owned an auto upholstery repair shop back in Syria.

Mounting bills and a gnawing desire for independence eventually convinced him to drop out in favour of a job at a local patio furniture manufacturer. “I wish I go back to school. Maybe when I am old man,” he laughs. Sometimes Jehad answers questions twice, first in Arabic to his son Hussam, who acts as a language coach, and then again in English.

In contrast, Baraa, 49, has stuck with her language training and is now close to graduating. “When I am done, maybe I study more or look for a job,” she says.

Having chosen work over study, Jehad has already weathered two layoffs in the past two years as a result of the seasonal nature of the patio furniture business. A monthly $3,000 stipend from the church has long since run out and now rent consumes more than half his income. But he remains determined to pay his own way. Responsible for reimbursing the federal government for the cost of his family’s flight from Turkey, Jehad declined the option to pay it back at the modest rate of $9 per month.

“The government got $200 every month. Finished. No debt,” he states proudly, wiping his hands together. To supplement his income, he has also been doing small upholstery jobs on the side. And to save on expenses, he has discovered the wonders of Kijiji. “Six chairs and table. Twenty-five dollar!” he exclaims in disbelief, pointing across his small but homey apartment to his family’s “new” dining room set.

Independent, proud, hard-working and frugal. In many ways, Jehad already seems plenty Canadian. Perhaps the fact the enormous influx of Syrian refugees no longer constitutes a federal election issue can be partly ascribed to Jehad’s impressive work ethic and gregarious nature. As well as his family’s determination to fit into Canadian society. (They will be applying for citizenship shortly.) He even claims to love winter.

“In Syria, when winter comes one day, we drive 50 kilometre to see ice and snow. Everyone excited. Here… ” Jehad tails off, searching for the words to explain how Canadians don’t seem to get quite as excited about the cold stuff. But you get the sense he’ll eventually figure it out. A new home always takes some getting used to.

Source: How Syrian refugees to Canada have fared since 2015

Liberals end ‘unfair’ policy that penalized refugees from so-called ‘safe countries’

Not much left of these measures between court decisions and Liberal policy changes, will see what Andrew Scheer says in his forthcoming policy speech on immigration:

The Liberal government has killed a controversial Harper-era initiative that did not afford all refugees the same rights and instead penalized those who came from so-called “safe countries” like the United States.

Starting immediately, Canada will remove the tight timeframe for their claims to be heard and let them appeal possible rejections, as well as grant them the right to work immediately and receive health care — benefits previously bestowed only on asylum seekers fleeing from war-torn countries and corrupt regimes.

“The system is unfair and treats people differently based on nationality,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told the Star in a phone interview Thursday. “The policy hasn’t worked. It was meant to introduce efficiency, but it has created the opposite effects. It’s time to go.”

The move by Ottawa follows several Federal Court decisions over the years that have chipped away at the core provisions of the so-called “safe country” policy introduced in 2012 by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to target rising asylum claims from Eastern Europe and Mexico. The government established a list of safe countries and created a faster processing and removal system for claimants from these nations.

The Liberals’ decision to eliminate the safe country list, to be made public Friday, officially strikes down the last remaining planks of their predecessor’s controversial revamp of the refugee asylum system.

The original reforms aimed to deter “bogus claimants” whose lives weren’t in danger, but who came to Canada for economic opportunities. However, the changes failed to stem the flow of migrants and the Conservatives did not invest the necessary resources to manage the new system.

Refugee claims from these countries were not being processed any faster, said Hussen, and added additional burden to the asylum system that was further stretched over the past two years as a result of a surge of claimants crossing into Canada from the U.S.

“We are getting rid of the last piece of the policy that is responsible for creating the legacy backlog,” said Hussen. Under the safe country regimen, refugees from the list were given limited time for claims to be heard, had restricted access to appeals and health coverage, and faced quick deportation — which the court has ruled violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Critics have long noted that people from so-called safe countries can still face persecution at home due to sexual orientation, ethnicity and religion, and for a variety of reasons their countries can fail to protect them. They also complained the statutory timelines to process safe country claims were unreasonable and created chaos and further backlogs because the previous government did not put in enough resources to let the refugee board do its job.

The safe country list initially included 23 countries and has since been expanded to 42, including the United States, Czech Republic, Hungary and Mexico.

Hussen said improving the efficiency of the asylum system has always been part of his mandate since being appointed immigration minister in 2017. Under his watch, an independent review of the system was completed, an asylum management board was established to oversee the system, the legacy backlog was cleared and additional resources were pumped in to boost the refugee board’s processing capacity.

The removal of the safe country list, however, has no impact on the bilateral Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S., which bans refugees from third countries coming through the United States and seeking asylum in Canada at the official ports of entry. These so-called irregular migrants can still seek asylum in Canada if they manage to sneak in and meet exemption requirements — and be processed like all refugees.

In 2018, the federal government invested $74 million over two years to hire 64 refugee judges and 185 support staff to handle the ballooning backlog, which reached 74,000 cases as of the end of March. As part of the 2019 federal budget, Ottawa has added more resources to boost the board’s operation to allow it to process up to 50,000 asylum claims and 13,500 appeals a year by 2021.

Immigration officials said only 12 per cent of asylum claims submitted from Jan. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2019 were from citizens of the designated safe countries.

Source: Liberals end ‘unfair’ policy that penalized refugees from so-called ‘safe countries’

More resources needed for federal agencies processing refugee claims: AG

No surprise here, reflecting some long-term and ongoing issues:

Canada’s refugee and asylum system will continue to be overwhelmed if additional resources are not committed to the three federal agencies responsible for processing refugee claims, the country’s auditor general said Tuesday.

“We project that if the number of asylum claimants remains steady at around 50,000 per year, the wait time for protection decisions will increase to five years by 2024 — more than double the current wait time,” interim Auditor General Sylvain Ricard said in his spring report.

The current backlog, the auditor general said, is “worse than in 2012,” when a mountain of unresolved claims led the Harper government to reform the system.

The federal watchdog said in December last year that some 71,380 people were waiting for their claims to be heard. In March 2010, that number was 59,000.

Canada was the ninth-largest recipient of refugee and asylum claimants in 2017, with some 50,400 claims filed, a number that jumped to 55,000 in 2018.

About 40,000 of those asylum claimants came via the United States, with most crossing into Quebec.

The surge of claimants has put additional pressure on a system that has long grappled with processing delays, the auditor general’s office said — a crunch that is expected to continue if funding levels and processing capacity remains the same.

“Overall we found Canada’s refugee determination system was not equipped to process claims according to the required timelines,” the report notes.

Long wait times

At the end of December 2018, the auditor general’s office said the average wait time for a decision in Canada was two years. As of 2012, refugee claimants are supposed to have a hearing scheduled within 60 days of their arrival in Canada. 

In the March 2019 budget, the Trudeau government pledged $1.18 billion over five years for Canada’s strained refugee claimant system.

“Budget 2019 did provide additional resources to enhance the capacity of the system but it was not clear exactly how it’s going to deal with the backlog and reduce the wait times for claimants,” said Carol McCalla, the principal director of the auditor general’s report on processing asylum claims.

About 65 per cent of claimants have seen their hearings delayed at least once, the auditor general said — an action that led to an additional five-month delay, on average. 

About 25 per cent of claims made saw multiple delays, the auditor general said, noting most of the holdups were “due to administrative issues within the government’s control.” 

In almost half of the cases, hearings were delayed because a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada was unavailable. 

Another 10 per cent of cases were stalled because security screens were still being processed, even though the necessary paperwork had already been filed in one in five of the cases delayed for security reasons.

CBSA has since reallocated resources to “significantly improve the timeliness of security screening,” the auditor general’s report noted.

Canada’s refugee processing system isn’t utilizing available fast-tracks, either — processes that allow the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to decide certain claims by simply reviewing a file rather than hold a hearing. 

The auditor general found the board only expedited about 25 per cent of eligible cases, even though 87 per cent of the remaining eligible cases eventually received a positive outcome. 

“Moreover, we found the Board did not process expedited claims more quickly,” the report said. “On average decisions for expedited claims took about the same amount of time as regular claims.” 

The board, the auditor general noted, announced changes to its expediting processing system in January.

Missing security checks

Processing delays weren’t the only issue flagged by Canada’s auditor general Tuesday. 

Canada’s federal watchdog also found poor quality assurance checks between Canada Border Services Agency and the federal immigration department meant about 400 applicants (or 0.5 per cent) were not subjected to the necessary criminal or identity checks because of system errors or failure to take claimants’ fingerprints. 

“Neither organization systematically tracked whether a criminal records check was always completed because of poor data quality,” the report reads, adding those records are “important for public safety and the integrity of the refugee determination system.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said initial screening by CBSA of individuals arriving in Canada include biometric and biographic screening.

“This layer of screening screens out individuals with serious criminality. No individuals with serious criminality or security concerns were allowed into admitted to Canada,” Goodale’s office said.

“With respect to the layer of biometric screening examined by the Auditor General, the only new piece of information captured by this layer of screening is whether or not an individual had previously claimed asylum in another country.”

Poor data quality wasn’t the only concern flagged by the auditor general’s office.

Canada’s federal watchdog said poor communication between the three organizations responsible for Canada’s asylum claim system was made worse by the fact the CBSA, the federal immigration department and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada use “different information technology systems, with limited interoperability.” 

As a result, the auditor general said it found “important gaps in which information was not shared, such as changes to hearing dates.”

“The system needs to be more flexible to be able to be scalable to increases in demand. As well, improvements are needed in how it uses its resources to share the information and processes the claims more efficiently,” McCalla said.

All three organizations also remain heavily dependent on paper and faxes to share specific claim information, the auditor general said, with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada relying “almost exclusively on paper files in its work.” 

“Collecting and sharing information securely and efficiently are critical to the proper processing of asylum claims, especially when claim volumes are high,” the report noted.

In response to the auditor general’s report, all three organizations pledged to improve their quality assurance programs. “Through regular monitoring, issues such as missing, delayed, incomplete, or ineligible claimant information will be identified and addressed in a timely manner by the responsible organization,” reads a statement attributed to the organizations in the report.

Additional work will also be done to improve the department and agency’s technological capabilities, they said, including an eventual shift to digital processing.

Source: More resources needed for federal agencies processing refugee claims: AG

Ontario asks federal government for $45-million to fund legal aid for refugees, immigrants

Pre-federal budget political positioning as much as substance:

Ontario Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney is calling on Ottawa to fully fund a $45-million provincial legal-aid program for immigrants and refugees in Tuesday’s federal budget.

In a letter sent to the federal ministers of justice, immigration and finance, Ms. Mulroney says costs associated with providing immigration and refugee services has “increased significantly” in Ontario as a result of federal government policies.

“Ontario must ensure we have a stable and sustainable system. Let me be clear, this was a federally created challenge, and one our government has called on you previously to fix,” Ms. Mulroney wrote in the letter sent Friday to Justice Minister David Lametti, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

“As you table your budget, I am confident that you will see the need to properly fund Ontario’s legal-aid program, and recognize that the failure to do so will place hardships on those who rely on this system.”

The latest salvo in the battle between Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government and the federal Liberals over the costs associated with immigration and refugee claimants comes as Ottawa is set to table its pre-election budget on Tuesday.

While the number of asylum seekers has been steadily decreasing over the past few months, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) – the arm’s-length body that adjudicates refugee claims – has struggled to keep pace with the number of new cases being added to its backlog of files.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has already demanded that Ottawa foot a $200-million bill to cover the costs of resettling thousands of asylum seekers crossing into Canada from the United States. And Toronto recently said its proposed 2019 municipal budget will only be balanced if the federal government offers up $45-million to cover the costs of housing the influx of refugee claimants in the city’s shelter system.

Pierre-Olivier Herbert, a spokesman for Mr. Morneau, said the federal government recognizes the importance of proper funding for legal aid. Since 2016, he said, the federal government has increased its contribution for immigration and refugee legal-aid services in six provinces by more than $22-million.

“Our government understands that immigration plays an important role in driving our economy and has contributed to our success as a country. While the Conservatives continue to try to divide Canadians, by promoting fear and misinformation, we will continue to defend our immigration system,” he said.

Legal Aid Ontario, which is responsible for providing legal services to low-income Ontarians, estimates it will spend $45-million this year to deliver its immigration and refugee program, which includes IRB hearings and appeals to federal court. But Ms. Mulroney says the federal government is only contributing $16.9-million to the program, “leaving a shortfall of nearly $28-million that the province is expected to subsidize to support matters of federal jurisdiction.”

Last September, the federal government allocated an additional $10-million to Ontario, on top of a previously committed $7-million.

A report released last December from Ontario’s auditor-general, Bonnie Lysyk, shows Ontario’s portion has risen from $19.3-million in 2014 to $28.4-million in 2018.

The report said Legal Aid Ontario has “faced challenges managing the increase in refugee and immigration cases without a known increase of funding from the federal government,” noting that Ontario receives a lower federal funding portion than other provinces.

It also found Legal Aid Ontario’s “rushed decision-making” in expanding eligibility for certificates contributed to $40-million in deficits over the past two years. A certificate allows a client to retain a private-sector lawyer on one of Legal Aid Ontario’s rosters.

Ms. Mulroney recently named a former Progressive Conservative attorney-general, Charles Harnick, as the new chair of Legal Aid Ontario.

Source: Ontario asks federal government for $45-million to fund legal aid for refugees, immigrants

Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Reminder of need for caution regarding wannabe returnees:

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria, March 8 (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, attempting to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.

“They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria. “They tried to hit us.”

The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.

Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis. Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity. More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.

The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women. On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.

“The foreigners throw stones. They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials. Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.

‘WE NEED HELP’

Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.

Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.

Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered. But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.

Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children. While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.

“The situation in the camp is very miserable. The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.

When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.

“Even the big tents are full. People are sleeping out in the open.”

The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own. The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.

Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.

CAMP SKIRMISHES

Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin”, and locals who were members or lived under its rule.

“There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.

She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate”. Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.

“The natives … they were kind of rude. They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on. It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.

“Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone. Now there are no problems.”

Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others. “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.

The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.

“There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others. This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “The situation is under control.”

The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz. It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.

Source: Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

How Canadians opened their hearts to refugees

Nice historical piece regarding the origins of the private sponsorship program and the pivotal role Mennonites played in its creation:

Few government contracts have stood the test of time as well as a simply worded deal between Canada and its people that has not only lasted four decades but continues to bolster the country’s reputation for compassion.

The 11-page sponsorship agreement, signed between Ottawa and the Mennonite Church on March 5, 1979, in response to the “boat people” crisis, became the blueprint for Canada’s private refugee resettlement program that has allowed Canadians to play an active role in helping refugees start a new life here.

“My family and I wouldn’t be here without it,” said Ka Lee-Paine, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came here at age 2 with her family in 1979, among the first wave of people accepted under the private refugee sponsorship program.

“We had complete strangers helping us out. The sponsorship meant I could have a good life, get a great education and be a strong woman,” added the now 42-year-old Kitchener teacher. “Ninety-nine per cent of us do understand how fortunate we are to have made it to Canada and we strive to be productive citizens of this country.”

With the help of groups such as the Mennonite Central Committee serving as guarantors and administrators, Canadians have brought almost 350,000 refugees to Canada by providing the newcomers with at least one year of financial and social support.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada has seen a renewed interest in private sponsorships, which accounted for half of the 60,000 Syrians resettled here; the rest were sponsored by the federal government.

Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with the federal government handle applications from individual community groups, who in turn are responsible for raising funds to support the refugees during their first year in the country as well as creating a social network to help them navigate their new lives and find housing and jobs. There are now more than 100 sponsorship agreement holders, mostly faith groups, across Canada.

The mass exodus of Indochinese refugees was sparked by the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. As American soldiers were evacuated from the South Vietnamese capital, Communist troops from the north swept in, hoisting their flags and spreading panic.

Hundreds of thousands of desperate people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fled to neighbouring countries by boat. Many didn’t make it, either drowning at sea or being attacked by pirates. Others ended up languishing for years in overcrowded refugee camps.

In 1978, Ottawa passed a new immigration law with a provision to allow private sponsorships if Canadians would accept full responsibility for the refugees for a year.

But there were no takers, said Mike Molloy, who was director of refugee policies in the Immigration Department at the time.

“Refugee advocates and churches were speaking against it and intimidating others not to get involved. There wasn’t a single sponsorship application coming in,” recalled Molloy, 74, who officially retired from the federal service in 2003.

“The Mennonite Central Committee was a gift. They came to us in late 1978 with a clear altruistic motivation. As a faith community that came here as refugees, they were confident and pragmatic. They played straight with us and we played straight with them.”

Canada had welcomed more than 21,000 Mennonite refugees from Russia in the 1920s and another 8,000 from Eastern Europe after the Second World War, and the community was eager to play a part in helping the boat people, said Bill Janzen, who was tasked by the Mennonite committee with negotiating the deal with Ottawa in 1979.

“Our community was experienced in helping refugees get settled with jobs and a place to live. We had been active with our aid work in Vietnam since 1954. We sympathized with those fleeing from Communist totalitarian regimes,” said Janzen, 75, who was MCC’s office director in Ottawa in 1979.

“It’s human nature to imagine the worst-case scenario and worry about any legal problems, health and financial needs of the people they sponsored. That’s why we decided to step up as an organization for them to fall back on and help them overcome the fear of liability.”

With a mandate from his board to make a deal with the government, Janzen asked for a meeting with senior immigration officials on Feb. 2, 1979. He arrived in Ottawa with a rough outline of what would later turn into the 11-page agreement.

Gordon Barnett, an experienced government negotiator, was Janzen’s counterpart at the bargaining table.

He said one of the sticking points of the negotiation was over the responsibility to provide language classes to privately sponsored refugees.

“It didn’t start out smoothly. Why should the government offer language classes to refugees sponsored by churches? That should be their problem,” recalled Barnett, now 75, who once belonged to a team on the Privy Council tasked with drafting the language rights for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and who retired from the Immigration Department in 1996.

“It was a time when the Indochinese boat people were filling the news and the government was under undue pressure to do something. We were negotiating with the Mennonites and they were so willing to help. We met a few more times and the deal was signed within weeks.”

The agreement laid out the eligibility of who could be a sponsor and the criteria to be sponsored, as well as the sponsorship process, roles and responsibilities — with Ottawa ultimately agreeing to pick up the tab for language training.

The Mennonite agreement inspired groups such as the Presbyterian Church of Canada and Council of Christian Reformed Churches to follow suit. By August 1979, 28 national church organizations as well as Catholic and Anglican dioceses were on board.

By the end of that year, 5,456 private sponsorships had been received for 29,169 refugees, surpassing the 21,000 goal set by the government.

In the end, Canada would roll out the welcome mat to 60,000 Indochinese refugees in the late 1970s and early 1980s, half of them through private sponsorships.

“When I look back on my career, this agreement with the Mennonites was something I really felt good about. At the end, we had a really well-negotiated document because what we negotiated was fair,” said Barnett.

“I thought when the Indochinese refugee crisis was over, the agreement would become a historical document. I never thought it would go on forever. I’m just amazed that it stood the test of time and is still useful to this day.”

Brian Dyck, the Mennonite committee’s current national migration and resettlement program co-ordinator, said the private sponsorship program is unique in that it allows Canadians to be hands-on in helping refugees.

“You have a broad range of people in the community who bring together their social capital to the process. This has helped build Canadians’ awareness of refugee issues over the last 40 years,” said Dyck. “It helps build social cohesion and instills a stronger sense of volunteerism in Canadians.”

Source: How Canadians opened their hearts to refugees

Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Although only covers the first four months (until May 2016), nevertheless interesting and encouraging:

Statistique Canada se penche pour la première fois sur les conditions de vie des réfugiés syriens accueillis au Canada en 2015 et 2016 en raison de la guerre faisant rage dans ce pays depuis 2011. Évaluant notamment combien d’entre eux avaient réussi à se trouver un boulot, l’organisme fédéral de statistiques a constaté que leur revenu moyen était équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés au pays.

Le Canada répondait à ce moment à une situation inquiétante : en 2015, la Syrie était le pays comptant la plus importante population de réfugiés déplacés dans le monde selon les critères du Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés.

En novembre 2015, le gouvernement du Canada avait alors dévoilé un «plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens» au pays.

Ils se sont retrouvés d’un océan à l’autre.

À l’échelle provinciale, c’est en Ontario que le nombre de réfugiés syriens était le plus important, avec 10 210, suivi du Québec, qui en comptait 5295. De ce nombre, 4265 se sont posés dans la métropole et 255 dans la région de Québec.

Au moment de compiler ces données, ces réfugiés syriens n’étaient au pays que depuis un an environ. Les données plus récentes ne sont pas encore comptabilisées et seront dévoilées plus tard.

Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ont été pris en charge par le gouvernement (53%), les autres ayant été parrainés par le secteur privé. Les conditions de vie de ces deux groupes diffèrent, notamment parce que le gouvernement a choisi des gens plus vulnérables : ils sont donc souvent plus jeunes et moins scolarisés que ceux de l’autre groupe.

Ces gens «réinstallés» au Canada entre le 1er janvier 2015 et le 10 mai 2016 étaient en bonne partie des familles avec plusieurs enfants. Ce constat est le reflet du processus de sélection particulier du Canada en lien avec cette crise humanitaire: les familles nombreuses étaient privilégiées, alors que les célibataires avaient moins de chance d’être admis.

Par «réfugiés réinstallés», Statistique Canada fait référence à ceux qui ont été sélectionnés à l’étranger alors qu’ils étaient hors de leur pays d’origine ou de résidence habituelle, et qui ont reçu le statut de résident permanent en raison d’une crainte fondée de retourner dans ce pays.

Ainsi, il a été relevé que 85% des familles syriennes accueillies au pays étaient composées d’un couple ayant des enfants, et ces familles comptaient en moyenne 2,8 enfants.

Par ailleurs, les réfugiés syriens affichaient un taux d’emploi moins élevé que les réfugiés originaires d’autres pays, principalement parce qu’ils étaient au Canada depuis moins longtemps. Au moment du recensement de 2016, sur lequel les calculs de Statistiques Canada sont fondés, les réfugiés syriens comptaient environ quatre mois de résidence au pays en moyenne, alors que les réfugiés originaires d’ailleurs en comptaient le double en moyenne. Ces chiffres pourraient donc changer lors de la prochaine compilation des données.

«L’insertion sur le marché du travail constitue une étape importante pour les immigrants récents en général et pour les réfugiés en particulier, lesquels font face à d’importants défis en raison, notamment, de caractéristiques socioéconomiques particulières, ainsi que des conditions, souvent tragiques, qui les ont menés à quitter leur pays d’origine», est-il noté dans l’analyse.

La méconnaissance par plusieurs des langues officielles du pays rendait aussi plus difficile leur arrivée sur le marché du travail. Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ne connaissaient ni le français ni l’anglais au moment du recensement de 2016.

Plus précisément, environ 20% des réfugiés syriens pris en charge par le gouvernement connaissaient le français ou l’anglais, comparativement à 67% de ceux parrainés par le secteur privé.

Mais une fois ce facteur linguistique pris en compte, ainsi que d’autres différences sociodémographiques, les réfugiés syriens étaient autant susceptibles de travailler que les réfugiés en provenance d’autres pays, conclut Statistique Canada.

Le taux d’emploi était plus élevé parmi les réfugiés admis en 2015, ce qui démontre que la durée de résidence a une incidence sur le degré de participation au marché du travail, note Statistique Canada.

Et leur revenu moyen annuel est équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés, variant de 15 000 $ à 20 000 $ en 2016 pour les Syriens.

Ceux pris en charge par le gouvernement avaient un revenu annuel un peu plus élevé (20 000 $) que ceux parrainés par le privé (15 600 $). Leurs revenus annuels étaient même plus élevés que ceux en provenance d’autres pays.

En 2015, le gouvernement canadien avait annoncé un plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens au Canada avant la fin de février 2016. Après, le Canada a continué d’accueillir des réfugiés syriens, principalement au moyen du parrainage par le secteur privé. Au total, près de 60 000 ont été réinstallés au Canada depuis 2015, est-il précisé dans la note explicative des résultats.

Source: Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Ottawa begins fast-tracking asylum claims from selected countries

While there are risks involved, there does appear to have been careful consideration in terms of the groups and circumstances subject to fast-tracking. And given the backlog and numbers, some form of triage is necessary to separate out more straightforward cases from more complex:

Overwhelmed by asylum claims from irregular migrants crossing the U.S. border, the Immigration and Refugee Board is fast-tracking “less complex” cases from selected countries.

On Tuesday, refugee judges began assessing claims under what is known as a file-review process — meaning a decision is made based on submissions from claimants — without a hearing — and a short-hearing process, where there are few disputable issues.

“These new instructions are examples of initiatives recently put in place to slow the growth of the inventory and wait times for claimants,” refugee board chairman Richard Wex told the Star. “By matching our efforts with the complexity of each claim, we are using our resources more effectively, which will result in more refugee claim decisions.”

The latest statistics show the board has more than 73,000 outstanding claims and the wait time for a hearing now hovers at around 24 months. Many of the claims are from asylum seekers who came through the U.S.-Canada border since late 2015 after U.S. President Donald Trump came into the office with a mandate to crack down on illegal migrants.

In December, the board started triaging the claims based on two newly created lists of countries and claims. In total, 25 refugee judges have been assigned to the new effort.

To qualify for the file-review process, a claimant must be from one of 14 countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen.

However, not every claim from these countries will be automatically expedited.

For instance, only those Saudi Arabian claims alleging persecution based on gender or religious sect can be assessed without a hearing. For asylum seekers from Libya, claims must involve corruption, extortion, kidnapping or threat of kidnapping by militias.

Only some claims from 11 countries are recommended for short hearings: sexual orientation persecution in the Bahamas, Barbados, Iran, Russia, Rwanda and Venezuela; fleeing criminality and corruption in Nigeria, Peru, Saint Vincent and St. Lucia; and threats in Djibouti due to one’s political opinion and activism.

According to the refugee board, these countries and claims were selected for faster processing because they have an acceptance rate of 80 per cent or higher and the type of risks the asylum seekers face are generally well documented.

Officials said a failed claimant under the file-review process is entitled to a full hearing by a refugee judge.

Source: Ottawa begins fast-tracking asylum claims from selected countriesThe Immigration and Refugee Board now fast-tracks “less complex” asylum claims by reviewing evidence without a full hearing as backlog climbs to 74,000 cases with wait times of up to 24 months.

In contrast to the neutral reporting, a typical example of over the top conservative commentary rather than a measured discussion of the risks involved.

The Conservatives also introduced streamlined and tighter processes under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act with mixed success (Former Tory government’s refugee reforms get failing grade | The Star:

The Trudeau government is fast-tracking the approval process for asylum claimants coming from the world’s most violent and dangerous societies.

As I first reported in April 2017, the government was looking at ways to rubber stamp claimants to address the massive backlog of asylum applications that has accumulated in recent years.

This week, they finally rolled out their new controversial process.

Under the new system, individuals from select countries will be accepted as refugees without ever having to present their case in person or appear before an Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) judge.

Instead, they’ll be waved through based on what they call a “file review” — a paper application often filled out by a trained immigration lawyer or consultant.

The government justifies these changes by saying the new rules only affect “less complex” cases — in essence, cases dealing with people coming from refugee-producing countries.

The problem is that refugee-producing countries can also be terrorist-producing countries.

According to a notice posted by the IRB, the new rubber stamp program will apply to “all claims” from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Burundi and Eritrea.

Other countries whose citizens are now eligible for fast-tracked acceptance into Canada include Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, Turkey and Egypt.

These changes come just weeks after we learned that a person considered a “national security concern” was admitted to Canada and granted permanent residency.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said this was “entirely unacceptable” and the CBSA president said it was the result of “a series of failures.”

Skipping IRB interviews will only make Canada more vulnerable.

The new fast-tracked system was designed to address the backlog of over 64,000 applications that has grown alongside the dramatic spike in asylum applications and the ongoing crisis of illegal border crossers circumventing Canada’s immigration and border laws.

In 2017, 50,390 migrants entered Canada legally and illegally to make refugee claims. That number jumped to 55,695 last year.

The Trudeau government has done little to stop the record surge in asylum claimants. In fact, there’s ample evidence that the feds are helping to facilitate illegal border crossers.

Just look at Roxham Road — home to 95% of all illegal crossings.

The feds built a land-bridge to make it easier for migrants to enter Canada illegally. They set up a makeshift border station to start processing asylum claims, and they began to offer shuttle bus services to bring migrants to Montreal and Toronto — where they’re given access to government-funded housing, healthcare and other taxpayer-funded services.

The Trudeau government has repeatedly created incentives and encouraged people to come to Canada to make asylum claims. And now, to deal with the backlog that they themselves created, they’re waving through asylum claimants from violent, dangerous and unstable parts of the world.

Rather than carefully and methodically reviewing cases presented by asylum claimants, the government is now skipping important steps and rushing through the process.

But without so much as a short interview with an immigration judge, how can we be sure that the individuals are fleeing violence and are not part of the violence?

The Trudeau government haphazardly opened our borders and invited the world’s migrants to come to Canada. Now, the government is quietly chipping away at the safeguards that were designed to keep Canadians safe.

Source: MALCOLM: Feds roll out fast-tracking for asylum claimants from dangerous countries

Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Speaks for itself and the perseverance to be heard:

Back in August, when Behrouz Boochani was speaking with NPR over the phone, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist said his debut book, written mostly with texts he sent from an Australian detention center, was meant “to make a challenge against this system, to tell the truth to people.” He wasn’t motivated by money.

On Thursday, his work earned him some money anyway.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, which are among Australia’s most prestigious literary prizes, singled out Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison for their highest honor: the Victorian Prize for Literature. His book also won in the nonfiction category.

The Victorian Prize carries a purse of 100,000 Australian dollars, while the nonfiction award brings 25,000 on top of that — or about $90,000 in USD, all told.

But because Boochani remains detained on Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea, at the same offshore facility where he’s been held since 2013, his translator, Omid Tofighian, picked the awards up at the ceremony in his stead. And Boochani had to deliver his remarks through a recorded video message.

“I have always said I believe in words and literature. I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power,” he said. “Literature has the power to give us freedom.”

Boochani himself has not enjoyed physical freedom for more than five years now. He has lived in a kind of legal purgatory since he fled from Iran to Indonesia and then tried to travel to Australia, where he had hoped to obtain asylum after his pro-Kurdish publication attracted the scrutiny of Iranian security forces.

Instead, the boat he’d been riding was intercepted by the Australian authorities, who eventually transferred him to Manus Island. It is there, at what the Australian government calls an “offshore processing centre” — and what what he calls a “prison” — that Boochani has lived for years.

Australia first reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea, back in 2013, to hold some asylum-seekers on its small northern neighbor. Since then the practice has received vehement pushback — including from Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court, which ruled it illegal in 2016, and from multiple international aid organizations.

In a report issued late last year, Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, said dozens of the detainees had attempted suicide and still more had considered it.

“While many of our patients had experienced trauma,” said MSF’s Christine Rufener,it was the Australian policy of indefinite processing that destroyed all their hope for the future and devastated their mental health.”

Despite the ruling of Papua New Guinea’s high court, and despite the Manus Island camp’s formal closure later, hundreds of asylum-seekers continue to languish on the island without much idea of what may come next.

During Boochani’s years-long detention, he wrote his book in Farsi, in dispatch after dispatch sent via WhatsApp, which Tofighian then translated into English and organized. The result is a hybrid text that eschews easy classification, combining journalism, poetry and critical theory to craft what the prize’s judges called “a new understanding both of Australia’s actions and of Australia itself.”

“Altogether, this is a demanding work of significant achievement,” they explained in their citation. “No Friend But the Mountains is a literary triumph, devastating and transcendent.”

In the end, Boochani told NPR, his work in some way is also a gesture of hope: “We all hope that finally, after five years, we get freedom in a place like America or other countries.”

Source: Asylum-Seeker Barred From Entering Australia Wins Its Richest Literary Prize

Did Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed jump the queue with her speedy resettlement to Canada?

Good overview on the process followed:

Did Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun jump the queue over other refugees when Canada quickly opened its doors to the Saudi teen who was fleeing an allegedly abusive family?

Not according to Canadian immigration officials and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

While Rahaf’s plea for help on social media got her international headlines and drew the attention of the UNHCR to her plight, the emergency rescue effort was by no means unique — though the warm embrace by a foreign minister at the airport may be.

According to immigration officials, some 200 people are processed under Canada’s Urgent Protection Program each year, with about 50 resettled within the rapid timelines seen in Rahaf’s case. The 18-year-old arrived in Toronto Saturday — accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland — after a tumultuous week that began with Rahaf escaping from her family during a trip to Kuwait. Rahaf then flew to Bangkok, where she was detained by Thai authorities who prepared to deport her to Saudi Arabia, where she feared for her life.

“Canada has the flexibility to respond quickly to individual emergency situations for a small number of refugees,” said immigration department spokesperson Beatrice Fenelon. “These individuals are resettled on an expedited basis due to their particular circumstances.”

In a news conference in Toronto Tuesday, Rahaf, who has dropped her last name after she learned on social media that her family has disowned her, admitted she was “lucky.”

“I know that there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or who could not do anything to change their reality,” she told reporters.

People in need of protection cannot apply directly to the special Canadian program and requests must be made by referral organizations, such as the UNHCR.

Since Rahaf’s speedy resettlement to Canada — less than a week after she started a Twitter campaign while barricaded inside her hotel room — she has faced backlash not only from internet trolls criticizing her as a disgrace to her family and Islam but also from refugee supporters accusing her of being a queue jumper.

“A Syrian refugee from a war zone who lost everything is not welcome in the west. But a person from a golden palace in Saudi-Arabia who says ‘I am not a Muslim anymore’ is a hero and very welcome. Can someone explain this to me?” Arnoud van Doorn, a member of The Hague City Council in the Netherlands, asked on Twitter.

In Rahaf’s case, the UNHCR dispatched a team to her hotel room in Bangkok for an emergency resettlement assessment after learning from media reports that the teenager was going to be handed over to her family, who were en route to Thailand and planned to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

Among the 25.4 million refugees worldwide, less than 1 per cent end up being resettled, many of them after years in limbo.

“Emergency resettlement is extremely rare,” noted Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UNHCR representative to Canada. “Based on agreed-upon criteria, we refer these cases to the 30 countries that offer resettlement programs. There are many situations. It could be for the lack of medical care or the fear of torture if someone is returned to the country of origin.”

At her hotel in Bangkok, Rahaf was given a formal interview where she was asked to provide the details and evidence to substantiate her claims of mental and physical abuse by her family. After she got her UNHCR refugee designation, she underwent a thorough security and criminal check, as well as a medical exam, before being admitted to Canada.

“Rahaf met those criteria and we referred her case to several countries. Canada was the fastest to respond. Rahaf can’t choose her destination. She didn’t jump any queue. It’s a different process with different criteria,” said Beuze. “It’s not a unique case, but it’s only unique because of all the media and social media attention.”

While some critics fear Rahaf’s case may set a precedent and open the floodgates for other Middle Eastern women to claim gender oppression, experts say resettlement is only available to those who make it outside their country of origin.

“The assumption is your country can protect you. You become a refugee because you don’t get the protection and other countries need to step in,” said Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “Due to the notion of sovereignty, you can’t be a refugee in your own country.”

While praising Canada’s quick response to Rahaf’s situation, Dench said government officials must not politicize the refugee resettlement process by only prioritizing cases of those “who have the ears of the Prime Minister or Immigration Minister and are the favourite of the month of the media.”

According to the UNHCR, 1.4 million refugees have been identified for resettlement in 2019, but only 80,000 spots are available, including 11,000 in Canada.

Source: Did Saudi teen Rahaf Mohammed jump the queue with her speedy resettlement to Canada?

Christie Blatchford has a nice column on her strong character and independence, somewhat spoiled by her last editorial comments on grief and trauma counsellors:

She is a psychologically sturdy, resourceful and strong-willed young woman, this Rahaf Mohammed, recent “urgent protection” case freshly arrived in Toronto from Saudi Arabia via Kuwait and Thailand.

“I want to be independent, travel, make my own decisions on education, a career or who and when I should marry,” she said Tuesday at a big press appearance at COSTi Immigrant Services in the city’s west end.

“I had no say in any of this,” Rahaf said. “Today, I can proudly say that I am capable of making all of those decisions.”

She spoke in Arabic, her words translated and read in English by her COSTI settlement worker, Saba Abbas.

But there is no doubt she wrote it, said COSTI executive director Mario Calla with a grin, acknowledging he has seen evidence of the ferocious independent spirit himself.

For instance, he said, inundated with media requests from across the globe, Rahaf was crystal clear that she would do three interviews (with the ABC Australia network, the CBC and Toronto Star) and that was it, because “ ‘I want to get on with my life,’” Calla said.

“We suggested a press conference,” he said and she agreed to write a statement.

“That statement was all her,” Calla said. “She’s been very clear.”

As she said in it, “I understand that everyone here and around the world wishes me well and would like to continue to hear about how I am doing, but I will not be conducting any more media interviews for the time being.

“I ask everyone to respect my wishes.

“I would like to start living a normal private life, just like any other young woman living in Canada. This starts with me getting help in my settlement process and of course, learning English!”

As a government-sponsored refugee, Rahaf is entitled to 12 months of support (worth almost as much as social assistance, Calla said, lest the amount fuel local resentment), and COSTI will help with English classes, getting her settled into temporary accommodation (first with a family, later on her own) and has hired security guards as protection.

In defying her family and leaving behind the repressive guardianship system of Saudi Arabia, which infantilizes women from cradle to grave and makes them dependent on male relatives (father, husband, brother, etc.) for every decision, the 18-year-old has potentially put herself in danger.

Any country brazen enough to arrange to murder one of its own, as Saudi officials have acknowledged doing to journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, has a long and lethal reach.

As well, Rahaf has been vilified in the Arab world, with the Kingdom insisting the entire business is a family matter blown out of proportion. Amid all the love she has received on social media, inevitably for this new media world, there comes a backlash, and she also has received some threats. She has left Islam.

And Rahaf’s family has apparently denounced her in a tweet of its own; even discussing this was painful for her in the interviews she did.

“She finds it very difficult,” Calla said after her brief appearance before the cameras. “She does not want to talk about those things.” So she decided, he said, fine, she’d pull the Band-Aid off in one fell swoop: “’I’ll get it out there’” (in the interviews) and be done with it.

She arrived in Canada last Saturday after sneaking out from under her family’s grasp on the last day of their holiday in Kuwait, hopping a plane to Bangkok, and then, with her father and brother apparently enroute to retrieve her, barricading herself in an airport hotel room and launching a desperate Twitter campaign begging for help.

She had the savvy of her age group, to harness social media. It’s new, but refugees have long been innovative. As Calla said, “It’s a complex world. People do everything and anything to try to save themselves.” Some sneak over borders; some jump into little boats and try to cross perilous oceans; a few, and probably soon a few more, use social media.

For all her determination and resourcefulness, she’s also just a teenager. The first order of business, Calla said, after she arrived was to go to the mall.

Rahaf had been expecting to end up in Australia, where she was also welcomed, but the bureaucracy there was slower moving, and on the advice of the UNHCR, she landed in Canada instead, wearing just a little skirt. She needed winter clothes.

“And a phone package,” Calla said, smiling. “We did that on Saturday.”

In her new country, press-gangs of grief counsellors and soothers are brought into high schools and colleges at the first hint of trauma, discomfort, even disrespect. The cultural assumption here is that we are fragile beings. So, Calla was asked if Rahaf is receiving psychological support.

“She is not, right now,” he said. “We do have services at COSTI … We have not seen any signs of distress in that sense.” In the longer term, he said, “for any refugee, the big challenge is the loss — family and friends and a culture that was familiar to them.”

In that sense, one of the country’s newest arrivals is like a delicious throwback to an older and more self-reliant Canada.

Stay tough, darling.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Stow the trauma counsellors, this tough runaway is doing fine on her own