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

Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Appears the government overplayed its hand in its communication strategy, both with respect to the Ministerial welcome (all too tempting) and the ongoing (and understandable) gap between the welcoming rhetoric and actual numbers.

However, Ms. Alqunun’s social media sophistication and poise in her CBC interview is impressive:

If Canada were a proud and principled beacon unto the world’s most downtrodden, as so many so often claim, then one might have expected Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun to arrive at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Saturday with relatively little fanfare.

Canada resettles tens of thousands of refugees every year, after all, and many are fleeing circumstances just as horrific as the Saudi teenager’s abuse by her family. Canadian government officials are guarding Alqunun’s current whereabouts partly on grounds she might still be in danger even halfway around the world — an idea given credence by Dennis Horak, who was Canada’s ambassador in Riyadh until he was expelled over the summer.

Indeed, Saudi-Canadian relations are not in terrific shape just at the moment, thanks to our public rebukes of its treatment of activists, and granting immediate asylum to the world’s highest-profile Saudi refugee seems unlikely to help matters. One might very reasonably not give a damn about the House of Saud’s amour propre, but Ottawa would clearly prefer to repair those relations. Quite apart from anything else, it would give Canada more-than-zero leverage in lobbying on behalf of those activists — including imprisoned blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife is a Canadian citizen.

There were no good reasons to make a big show of Alqunun’s arrival, in other words, and plenty of good reasons not to. Furthermore, Justin Trudeau has been very clear about what he thinks of using refugees as political props. He was at his most thespian back in 2015 when it was alleged Stephen Harper’s office had been sifting through applications from Syrian asylum-seekers in search of potential photo ops.

“That’s DIS-GUST-ING,” Trudeau hissed at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C. “That’s not the Canada we want; that’s not the Canada we need to build.”

In the end, though, there was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with her arm draped around Alqunun, announcing that this “brave new Canadian” would not be taking questions. Luckily, Freeland herself had arrived equipped with some crimson talking points.

“I believe in lighting a single candle,” she said. “Where we can save a single person, where we can save a single woman, that is a good thing to do. … And I’d like to also emphasize, this is part of a broader Canadian policy of supporting women and girls in Canada and around the world.”

“Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world,” Trudeau chimed in.

It would be well-nigh impossible to argue against hearing, at the very least, Alqunun’s claim for asylum. But at this point, she is certainly also a political prop — a living symbol of the Liberal view of Canada’s place in the world, and an always-welcome opportunity for self-congratulation.

“We are demonstrating our moral leadership on the issue of gender equality,” University of Waterloo professor Bessma Momani wrote in The Globe and Mail. “It was another proud moment for Canada,” gushed Catherine Porter, The New York Times’ Toronto correspondent. It “further cement(ed) the country’s status as a bastion of refuge in a world where Western nations have become increasingly hostile to refugees,” the Times’ Twitter account effused.

“Any woman from Saudi Arabia should be able to make a credible case for asylum in this country based on the human rights abuses they endure there,” the Toronto Star’s editorial board averred. And on and on and on.

Saudi Arabia is a country of 33 million people. So no, not every woman there can claim asylum in Canada. I suspect the Liberals might balk at five high-profile claims in rapid succession. That’s what they do. The Liberals made a big show of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees while various European nations accepted many multiples of that; now they brag about how accepting Canadians are of refugees relative to Europe, as if one didn’t largely explain the other. They denounce any worries about asylum-seekers crossing the border illegally as rank intolerance, while waving the new arrivals into an interminable and disastrously under-resourced queue.

There are millions upon millions of displaced people around the world in whom you might expect a giant, wealthy and mostly empty country that prides itself on resettling refugees to take an interest. They aren’t even on the radar. NDP MP Charlie Angus has a more realistic take on what Canada is: “Thousands languish in camps and Chrystia Freeland promotes sale of death machines to Saudis as children die in Yemen,” he tweeted in response to Freeland’s airport press conference. “Foreign policy must be more than smug theatre,” he added.

Well, there’s the rub: Must it?

Canadians of all political stripes take inordinate pride in objectively modest contributions to all manner of global problems. There is nothing inherently disreputable in feeling pride when your country does the right thing — but only if you insist that your country does the right thing continually, coherently and consistently once the warm, fuzzy feeling fades away. Once she’s settled, if she is inclined to remain in the public eye, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun might be the ideal person to hammer that point home.

Source: Chris Selley: What — and who — comes after Rahaf Mohammed?

Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children

Good and disturbing reporting:

She was 3 years old when she arrived on Nauru, a child fleeing war in Sri Lanka. Now, Sajeenthana is 8.

Her gaze is vacant. Sometimes she punches adults. And she talks about dying with ease.

“Yesterday I cut my hand,” she said in an interview here on the remote Pacific island where she was sent by the Australian government after being caught at sea. She pointed to a scar on her arm.

“One day I will kill myself,” she said. “Wait and see, when I find the knife. I don’t care about my body. ”

Her father tried to calm her, but she twisted away. “It is the same as if I was in war, or here,” he said.

Sajeenthana is one of more than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekerswho have been sent to Australia’s offshore detention centers since 2013. No other Australian policy has been so widely condemned by the world’s human rights activists nor so strongly defended by the country’s leaders, who have long argued it saves lives by deterring smugglers and migrants.

Now, though, the desperation has reached a new level — in part because of the United States.

Sajeenthana and her father are among the dozens of refugees on Nauru who had been expecting to be moved as part of an Obama-era deal that President Trump reluctantly agreed to honor, allowing resettlement for up to 1,250 refugees from Australia’s offshore camps.

So far, according to American officials, about 430 refugees from the camps have been resettled in the United States — but at least 70 people were rejected over the past few months.

That includes Sajeenthana and her father, Tamil refugees who fled violence at home after the Sri Lankan government crushed a Tamil insurgency.

A State Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the rejections, arguing the Nauru refugees are subject to the same vetting procedures as other refugees worldwide.

Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement that Nauru has “appropriate mental health assessment and treatment in place.”

But what’s clear, according to doctors and asylum seekers, is that the situation has been deteriorating for months. On Nauru, signs of suicidal children have been emerging since August. Dozens of organizations, including Doctors Without Borders (which was ejected from Nauru on Oct. 5) have been sounding the alarm. And with the hope of American resettlement diminishing, the Australian government has been forced to relent: Last week officials said they would work toward moving all children off Nauru for treatment by Christmas.

At least 92 children have been moved since August — Sajeenthana was evacuated soon after our interview — but as of Tuesday there were still 27 children on Nauru, hundreds of adults, and no long-term solution.

The families sent to Australia for care are waiting to hear if they will be sent back to Nauru. Some parents, left behind as their children are being treated, fear they will never see each other again if they apply for American resettlement, while asylum seekers from countries banned by the United States — like Iran, Syria and Somalia — lack even that possibility.

For all the asylum seekers who have called Nauru home, the psychological effects linger.

Nauru is a small island nation of about 11,000 people that takes 30 minutes by car to loop. A line of dilapidated mansions along the coast signal the island’s wealthy past; in the 1970s, it was a phosphate-rich nation with per capita income second only to Saudi Arabia.

Now, those phosphate reserves are virtually exhausted, and the country relies heavily on Australian aid. It accounted for 25 percent of Nauru’s gross domestic product last year alone.

Mathew Batsiua, a former Nauruan lawmaker who helped orchestrate the offshore arrangement, said it was meant to be a short-term deal. But the habit has been hard to break.

“Our mainstay income is purely controlled by the foreign policy of another country,” he said.

In Topside, an area of old cars and dusty brush, sits one of the two processing centers that house about 160 detainees. Hundreds of others live in community camps of modular housing. They were moved from shared tents in August, ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental meeting that Nauru hosted this year.

Sukirtha Krishnalingam, 15, said the days are a boring loop as she and her family of five — certified refugees from Sri Lanka — wait to hear if the United States will accept them. She worries about her heart condition. And she has nightmares.

“At night, she screams,” said her brother Mahinthan, 14.

In the past year, talk of suicide on the island has become more common. Young men like Abdullah Khoder, a 24-year-old Lebanese refugee, says exhaustion and hopelessness have taken a toll. “I cut my hands with razors because I am tired,” he said.

Even more alarming: Children now allude to suicide as if it were just another thunderstorm. Since 2014, 12 people have died after being detained in Australia’s offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island, part of Papua New Guinea.

Christina Sivalingam, a 10-year-old Tamil girl on Nauru spoke matter-of-factly in an interview about seeing the aftermath of one death — that of an Iranian man, Fariborz Karami, who killed himself in June.

“We came off the school bus and I saw the blood — it was everywhere,” she said calmly. It took two days to clean up. She said her father also attempted suicide after treatment for his thyroid condition was delayed.

Seeing some of her friends being settled in the United States while she waits on her third appeal for asylum has only made her lonelier. She said she doesn’t feel like eating anymore.

“Why am I the only one here?” she said. “I want to go somewhere else and be happy.”

Some observers, even on Nauru, wonder if the children are refusing to eat in a bid to leave. But medical professionals who have worked on the island said the rejections by the Americans have contributed to a rapid deterioration of people’s mental states.

Dr. Beth O’Connor, a psychiatrist working with Doctors Without Borders, said that when she arrived last year, people clung to the hope of resettlement in the United States. In May, a batch of rejections plunged the camp into despair.

Mr. Karami’s death further sapped morale.

“People that just had a bit of spark in their eye still just went dull,” Dr. O’Connor said. “They felt more abandoned and left behind.”

Many of the detainees no longer hope to settle in Australia. New Zealand has offered to take in 150 refugees annually from Nauru but Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, has said that he will only consider the proposal if a bill is passed banning those on Nauru from ever entering Australia. Opposition lawmakers say they are open to discussion.

In the meantime, Nauru continues to draw scrutiny.

For months, doctors say, many children on Nauru have been exhibiting symptoms of resignation syndrome — a mental condition in response to trauma that involves extreme withdrawal from reality. They stopped eating, drinking and talking.

“They’d look right through you when you tried to talk to them,” Dr. O’Connor said. “We watched their weights decline and we worried that one of them would die before they got out.”

Lawyers with the National Justice Project, a nonprofit legal service, have been mobilizing. They have successfully argued for the medical evacuation of around 127 people from Nauru this year, including 44 children.

In a quarter of the cases, the government has resisted these demands in court, said George Newhouse, the group’s principal lawyer.

“We’ve never lost,” he said. “It is gut-wrenching to see children’s lives destroyed for political gain.”

A broad coalition that includes doctors, clergy, lawyers and nonprofit organizations, working under the banner #kidsoffnauru, is now calling for all asylum seekers to be evacuated.

Public opinion in Australia is turning: In one recent poll, about 80 percent of respondents supported the removal of families and children from Nauru.

Australia’s conservative government, with an election looming, is starting to shift.

“We’ve been going about this quietly,” Mr. Morrison said last week. “We haven’t been showboating.”

But there are still questions about what happens next.

Last month, Sajeenthana stopped eating. After she had spent 10 days on a saline drip in a Nauruan hospital, her father was told he had two hours to pack for Australia.

Speaking by video from Brisbane last week (we are not using her full name because of her age and the severity of her condition), Sajeenthana beamed.

“I feel better now that I am in Australia,” she said. “I’m not going back to Nauru.”

But her father is less certain. The United States rejected his application for resettlement in September. There are security guards posted outside their Brisbane hotel room, he said, and though food arrives daily, they are not allowed to leave. He wonders if they have swapped one kind of limbo for another, or if they will be forced back to Nauru.

Australia’s Home Affairs minister has said the Nauru children will not be allowed to stay.

“Anyone who is brought here is still classified as a transitory person,” said Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Center. “Life certainly isn’t completely rosy and cheery once they arrive in Australia.”

On Monday, 25 more people, including eight children, left the island in six family units, she said.

Those left behind on Nauru pass the days, worrying and waiting.

Christina often dreams of what life would be like somewhere else, where being 10 does not mean being trapped.

A single Iranian woman who asked not to be identified because she feared for her safety said that short of attempting suicide or changing nationality, there was no way off Nauru.

She has been waiting two years for an answer to her application for resettlement in the United States — one that now seems hopeless given the Trump administration’s policies.

Each night, often after the power goes out on Nauru, she and her sister talk about life and death, and whether to harm themselves to seek freedom.

Source: The Nauru Experience: Zero-Tolerance Immigration and Suicidal Children 

Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

Interesting. Will be good to see how the pilot works in Canada:

Call it a global job recruitment agency for refugees.

A Washington-based NGO has built a refugee talent pool and is matching candidates with employers from around the world. Not only does it help pull displaced migrants out of poverty, it alleviates labour shortages in western countries by providing them with skilled workers.

Since its 2016 inception, Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) has vetted and developed skill profiles for more than 10,000 refugees now in Lebanon and Jordan — 30 per cent of them with an undergrad degree or above and half with intermediate to full English proficiency.

The talent pool includes people from 200 professions, the majority with a background in engineering, health care, IT, teaching, accounting and university education.

“We need to change the narrative of the way we view refugees as unskilled and uneducated,” said Bruce Cohen, a former counsel in the U.S. Senate, who co-founded the organization with his wife Mary Louise Cohen, also a lawyer. “This is not to undercut the existing refugee resettlement effort but to open up new pathways to add to the solution.”

With an established — and still expanding — talent pool as well as backing from the United Nations Refugee Agency, the project has reached out to Canadian employers and is using Canada as the testing ground to bring in skilled refugees on work permits and maybe even as permanent residents.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the World Bank and other private foundations, TBB is partnering with the Canadian government, the UN and RefugePoint, an agency that promotes refugee resettlement and self-reliance, to divert refugees in Kenya and the Middle East to Canada through a pilot program. The pilot has the support of Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. All candidates must go through the same stringent requirements to qualify.

To date, across Canada, job offers have been made to six refugee candidates, including Mohammed Hakmi, who fled to Beirut with his family in 2011 when war broke out in Syria.

The native of Homs has a degree in information technology and more than five years of experience as a web developer and in computer networking. After responding to a post on Facebook by TBB, Hakmi was interviewed in English and assessed by experts in IT. Staff helped build his resumé to highlight his skills, experience and achievements.

“Being a refugee doesn’t mean a person is uneducated, that he or she is not innovative and effective in society. Many of us had good careers. No one chose to be a refugee and get trapped in these really terrible circumstances,” said Hakmi, 26, who, in September, applied for a work permit with a job offer from Kitchener-based tech firm Bonfire Interactive, with pro bono help from Toronto’s Segal Immigration Law.

“Refugees are not a liability but actually a good investment for the future. When you have been through so much, you value every opportunity you are given because you know how much of a gift it is. Refugees are the most dedicated workers you will find.”

Kris Braun, Bonfire’s director of engineering, said the company is looking to double its size and would require a number of talented software developers, who are in short supply.

“Canada’s tech industry is growing at a fast rate and we struggle to find good (job) candidates,” he said. “Refugees are trying to rebuild their lives after fleeing wars and conflicts. Part of it is to hold meaningful work. This is a win-win for us.”

Cohen said skilled worker and economic immigration policies are not designed with refugees’ circumstances in mind and requirements such as recent work experience and minimum settlement funds make it impossible for skilled refugees to qualify. It limits their migration options to humanitarian consideration only, he said.

Currently, fewer than 1 per cent of the 20 million UN-registered refugees around the world are resettled from a temporary host country in the developing world to the west.

“If you are a refugee or displaced person, you either run without your passport or your passport has likely expired while you are in another country,” said Cohen. “It’s these kinds of things that we need some flexibility and adjustments to make a difference.”

Cohen said he hopes to resettle as many as 25 refugees to Canada under the joint pilot with Ottawa and if successful, expand it to other countries.

Source: Pilot project aims to bring refugees to Canada as skilled workers

Douglas Todd: Refugees earn more than most Canadians after 25 years

Good solid analysis by IRCC and confirms what I am seeing in some of the data that I am looking at:

Refugees who arrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s are now earning more than the average Canadian.

An internal immigration department document shows that, after 25 years in the country, a typical refugee is earning as much or more than the Canadian norm, which is about $45,000 a year.

The document quotes a senior department official who says the long-term study of refugees’ wages suggests the recent wave of 50,000 refugees from Syria could several decades from now do as well as earlier refugees in regards to earnings.

“In a nutshell this is the trajectory we would expect (all things being equal) from government-assisted refugees and privately-sponsored refugees,” senior immigration department official Umit Kiziltan writes in a memo obtained under an access to information request.

The immigration and tax department data, which tracks refugees’ earnings from 1981 to 2014, shows that average government-assisted refugees earned less than $20,000 a year in their first decade in the country, when many families rely on provincial welfare and other government benefits to get by.

However, after 25 to 30 years in Canada, the average refugee is earning roughly $50,000 a year, about $5,000 more than the average Canadian. The study also shows the earnings gap between government-assisted refugees, who initially do worse than privately-sponsored refugees, basically disappears over the long run.

The largest groups of refugees to Canada in the 1980s and early 1990s came from Vietnam, Cambodia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. In that era the total number of refugees arriving ranged from 15,000 to 40,000 annually. In recent years Canada has accepted more than 50,000 refugees from war-torn Syria alone.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the internal government documents, said they contain reliable information that strongly indicate most refugees, no matter where they come from, develop usable skills and do well in the labour market over their careers.

However, even though the senior immigration department’s memo welcomed the news that refugees who arrived several decades ago perform well, Kiziltan cautioned that it’s hard to forecast how more recent refugees will do, given the “cyclical nature of the economy overall and especially (the) human capital of the Syrian cohorts.”

The report, in addition, also does not compare the earnings of refugees who have been in Canada for several decades (which means many would be in their 50s and at the peak of their careers) with the earnings of other Canadians of the same age cohort.

The data on refugees’ slow road to labour-market success in Canada comes on the heels of 2018 controversies over thousands of asylum seekers illegally crossing the Canadian border, a Syrian refugee being charged with the murder of Burnaby teenager Marrisa Shenand a Postmedia story revealing the federal Liberal government has not produced any report in two years on whether recent Syrian refugees are learning English or French, working, receiving social assistance or going to school.

This is not the first federal government indication, however, that many refugees eventually earn solid incomes. In 2014 then-federal Conservative immigration department minister Jason Kenney cancelled the contentious immigrant-investor program while revealing that refugees were actually paying more in Canadian income taxes than wealthy newcomers who had in effect bought their Canadian passports.

Asked about the contrast between taxes paid in Canada by refugees and rich immigrants, Kurland said it’s “a complicated comparison.” The breadwinner of an immigrant-investor family, Kurland explained, “usually returns home to support the family’s millionaire lifestyle in Canada” and therefore, unlike a refugee who stays in Canada, doesn’t pay significant income taxes in this country.

Previous studies have consistently shown that, while adult refugees often struggle in the short to medium term, many of their children quickly perform well in their new land, in large part because they gain extra social support, a taxpayer-funded education in English or French and the time to develop skills.

This recent internal study of refugee earnings, however, is among the first to emphasize that, over many decades, most of the refugees who had direct experience of war, persecution and trauma in their homeland are capable of attaining financial success in the country that welcomed them.

Source: Douglas Todd: Refugees earn more than most Canadians after 25 years

Refugee and immigrant youth are more likely to end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis than their Canadian-born peers, a new medical study shows

Not too surprising but nevertheless significant:

Refugee and immigrant youth are more likely to end up in the emergency room during a mental health crisis than their Canadian-born peers, a new medical study shows.

Newcomers did not seek early help from primary care doctors likely due to barriers in accessing and using outpatient mental health services, said researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and the Hospital for Sick Children.

“Efforts are needed to reduce stigma and identify mental health problems early, before crises, among immigrant populations,” said the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Tuesday.

Based on health and demographic data, researchers looked at emergency department visits for mental health issues by youth between the ages of 10 and 24 years in Ontario.

They identified a total of 118,851 young people who visited an ER with a mental health concern between 2010 and 2014, including 1.8 per cent or 2,194 refugees and 5.6 per cent or 6,680 non-refugee immigrants. The rest were Canadian.

“Most major mental illnesses have an age of onset in adolescence and young adulthood with about 20 per cent of youth experiencing mental illness. Our findings suggest that there are important subgroups of immigrant and refugee children who face barriers in accessing outpatient mental health care,” said study co-author Dr. Astrid Guttmann, chief science officer at ICES and staff pediatrician at Sick Kids.

“Interventions to improve access to the mental health system should consider the needs of specific immigrant populations.”

The gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant youth can be attributed to differences in culture, language proficiency, ability to navigate health services and even referral biases by health care providers, said the report.

While the majority of youth sought help for mental health issues at an emergency department first, the rate was higher for newcomers. The study found 61.3 per cent of refugee youth, 57.6 per cent of non-refugee immigrants and 51.3 per cent of Canadian youth went to an ER first.

Report lead author Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician at Sick Kids and adjunct scientist at ICES, said the differences are both statistically and clinically significant.

“Emergency services are important for managing acute mental health crises, but for most mental health disorders, primary care would be the most appropriate place for treatment and referral to specialized services,” she explained

“The high proportion of immigrant and refugee youth who have not been previously assessed for mental health problems suggests a need to understand specific cultural and other barriers and enabling factors related to the use of mental health services and access to care.”

Among all immigrants, recent arrivals had the highest proportion (64.3 per cent) of first contact in the emergency department, as did non-refugee immigrants from East Asia (61.7 per cent) and refugees from Africa (65.4 per cent), Central America (64.6 per cent) and East Asia (62.5 per cent).

Those who live in low-income and rural areas and those without OHIP coverage also had higher rates of first contact for mental health in the ER, said the report.

Source: Refugee and immigrant youth more likely to end up in ER during mental health crisis, study shows

The New Collateral Damage in Trump’s War on Refugees

While true that settlement and refugee agencies and organizations will suffer, the main issue is the impact of refugees and asylum seekers:

When the Trump administration announced its intention to slash the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to the lowest level in nearly four decades, the decision sparked worry among thousands of displaced persons who feared that the nation’s doors were now closed to them. But in addition to the record number of global refugees seeking safety from unrest in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the admissions cap will likely also harm organizations designed to help the thousands of displaced people who do make it safely to the United States.

As the U.S. government slows the number of legal refugees who can enter the country to a trickle, the nine private voluntary agencies with cooperative agreements with the State Department to help settle those refugees must now contend with a potentially devastating budget crunch.

“It’ll have a tremendous impact on the number of people who are able to access these life-saving services,” Nazanin Ash, vice president of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, told The Daily Beast. “There’ve been over 150 office closures over the last two years, and that shutters a vital resource in many communities across the country.”

An estimated 25.4 million refugees have fled their homelands worldwide, according to the United Nations—the highest recorded number of displaced people in history. As of 2019, the U.S. will only allow an annual maximum of only 30,000 refugees to legally settle in the U.S., down from the previous record low of 45,000.

“This is heartbreaking for us,” said Melanie Nezer, the senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, a non-profit that has helped settle refugees in the United States for nearly 140 years. “We have so many layers of uncertainty right now, it’s just unprecedented really… there’s no way that this decision makes us a stronger, more prosperous nation.”

Government grants, provided on a per capita basis tied to the number of refugees assisted, account for as much as 97 percent of the resettlement grants for these organizations. Lower resettlement admissions therefore mean fewer federal dollars—and program funding is now set to plummet as precipitously as the number of admitted refugees.

That loss in grant money threatens a funding shortfall that could endanger community-based resettlement offices nationwide, as well as programs intended to help those who have fled their homes to establish a life in the United States, from housing placement and food support to professional support, English classes and community integration.

“If we don’t have cases for case managers to manage, of course we’ll be reducing staff,” Eskinder Negash, CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told The Daily Beast. Negash, who served as director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement for six years under President Barack Obama, said that his organization’s main concern wasn’t its financial standing, but its ability to do its job on behalf of vulnerable refugees.

“Our commitment to refugee services and immigrants in this country goes back to 1911,” Negash said. “It’s not about preserving our institution—it’s about not being able to serve those people who need our services.”

When he announced the administration’s refugee policy for 2019 in a press conference on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the 30,000 refugee figure as “expansive,” and said it befitted the United States’ “longstanding record of the most generous nation in the world when it comes to protection-based immigration and assistance.”

Under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, the president has the sole authority, following consultation with Congress, to determine the maximum number of refugees who can be resettled in the United States, called the Presidential Determination. Under President Donald Trump, the Presidential Determination was decreased from 110,000 in 2017 to 45,000 refugees in 2018, one-seventh of its peak. Even then, the cap is a limit, not a requirement—so far, only 20,918 refugees have actually been admitted to the United States this year.

By comparison, the average annual ceiling has been set at 96,229 refugees since the program’s creation in 1980.

The policy is in keeping with the Trump administration’s goal of discouraging both legal and illegal immigration into the United States, in part due to concerns that immigrants from certain parts of the world would fail to properly integrate into American society. In May, White House chief of staff John Kelly prompted criticism when he told NPR that undocumented immigrants are, by and large, “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society… they don’t integrate well; they don’t have skills.”

But slashing government grants tied to refugee admissions would only undermine the objective of quickly assimilating new residents into American society, advocates told The Daily Beast.

“If your goal is to help immigrants and refugees contribute as much as they can to America society, then you would fund these programs,” said Nezer. The motivation behind these reductions, Nezer inferred, isn’t integration. “The goal is to keep people from coming.”

Advocates dismissed the notion—held firmly by the president—that refugees are a cultural or financial burden on the country, pointing to the government’s own studies that have shown refugees to be singularly beneficial to the U.S. economy.

“The opportunities that they are provided here is received with gratefulness and ambition—you get a chance to restart and rebuild in safety and security—and refugees pay back that opportunity in spades,” said Ash. “The administration has characterized refugees as burdensome, when in fact the opposite is true.”

Refugees, Ash noted, have higher rates of employment than many other immigrant populations, their entrepreneurship rates are 40 percent higher—“so they’re job creators”—and are estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services to have contributed a net $63 billion to the U.S. economy over the past decade. (The Trump administration has rejected the validity of that study.)

“Over 80 percent of the refugees who participate in employment programs are self-sufficient in six months,” Ash said proudly. “Show me the evidence that refugees aren’t assimilating! Show me the evidence that they are not economic contributors!”

A decrease in the number of resettlement offices may even even reignite a family separation crisis, warned Nezia Munezero Kubwayo, a community relations officer with the Ethiopian Community Development Council.

“A reduction in numbers and funding could mean that long-awaited family reunifications will never happen,” Kubwayo told The Daily Beast. “Children who have been languishing in refugee camps waiting for an opportunity for a better future will be affected. Every number that is reduced from resettlement represents a person whose hope is taken away.”

Nezer cautioned that the grant reduction won’t just negatively affect the refugees they’re intended to serve, but may foster a sense of isolation and complacency among native-born Americans.

“Fewer resettlement offices means fewer opportunities for people to volunteer and work with refugees,” Nezer explained. “If fewer refugees come, and fewer Americans get to engage directly with refugees, that kind of starts a cycle where there’s less direct connection” with refugee populations.

“As fewer comes and fewer Americans get to have that relationship, then there’s less support for letting refugees in at all.”

Criticism of the lowered refugee admission cap hasn’t just come from refugee resettlement organizations and advocacy groups. In a blistering statement released Tuesday evening, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) lambasted—his words—the Trump administration’s decision to announce the admissions cuts without consulting Congress, as is legally required.

“It is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed,” Grassley said. “Yet, for the second year in a row, the administration has willfully ignored its statutory mandate to inform and consult with Congress.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, echoed Grassley’s condemnation on Thursday. “The law is clear: the administration must consult with Congress prior to the president’s determination of the annual refugee ceiling,” Goodlatte, a staunch Trump ally on most issues but is retiring after the midterm elections, told reporters. “But this did not happen this year, and the Trump administration has no excuse for not complying with their obligation.”

Grassley, who on issues ranging from the legitimacy of the Russia investigation to the president’s frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions has normally been a staunch Trump ally, has criticized the Trump administration for its rogue determination of refugee admission levels before. In 2017, Grassley joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, in declaring that the committee’s leadership was “incredibly frustrated” with Trump’s refusal to consult with Congress when White House announced that it would slash refugee admission numbers by more than half.

This time, Grassley’s condemnation came with an implied threat. Noting that presidential determinations can’t be issued without in-person consultation with Congress by a member of the Cabinet, Grassley let slip that the draconian cuts to refugee admissions might now face opposition from an unconsulted Republican-held Congress.

“It is clear by the administration’s action that Congress should take action to ensure the required discussions occur in the future,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s frustrations have rare backing on the Democratic side of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well.

“This is one of the few areas—consultation with Congress—where there is some bipartisan agreement about the fact that the White House is abandoning past practice of genuinely consulting with Congress on refugee caps,” David Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), told The Daily Beast.

Grassley’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment as to what that “action” might look like, but Mary Giovagnoli, the executive director of Refugee Council USA, said that there are many options available if Congress is willing to take on the president.

“Congress can push right now for the President to increase the cap—since the president hasn’t actually signed this year’s Presidential Determination or held the annual consultations as required by law,” Giovagnoli told The Daily Beast. “We need to hold the administration accountable for its failure to meet this year’s cap, its policy reasons for further cutting the admissions goal this year, as well as ensuring that the number, whatever it ultimately is, is actually met.”

Historically, Giovagnoli said, Congress has given the president significant flexibility to set a refugee admission figure that reflected worldwide needs and foreign policy considerations. But when the president refuses to use that authority responsibly, Giovagnoli said, “it makes sense for Congress to revisit the process.”

In the meantime, refugee resettlement organizations are focusing on their mission, at a time when there are more refugees and internally displaced persons than ever before.

“The real issue is that refugees—single moms, children—will not be able to come to this country,” Negash said. “It’s the people that matter—not the finances.”

Source: The New Collateral Damage in Trump’s War on Refugees

Parrainage de réfugiés syriens: des citoyens passent la nuit dehors

A good news story that Quebec is far from monolithic in its views on immigration and refugees:

Des Québécois ont passé la nuit d’hier à aujourd’hui devant les locaux du ministère de l’Immigration afin de s’assurer que leur demande de parrainage de réfugiés syriens soit parmi les 750 qui seront acceptées pour étude dès la réouverture du programme aujourd’hui.

La file d’attente devant les bureaux du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion du Québec (MIDI) a commencé vers 16h, hier. Le premier sur place est arrivé avec une chaise et de quoi passer la nuit dans la rue. «On n’a pas le choix d’être ici si on veut être sûr que notre demande passe», a-t-il confié, vers 21h.

Derrière lui, à cette heure-là, neuf autres personnes attendaient rue Notre-Dame, certains sur de petites chaises, d’autres munis de leur sac de couchage.

Depuis janvier 2017, le volume important de demandes de parrainage de réfugiés syriens a forcé le MIDI à arrêter momentanément le programme. Dès aujourd’hui, les demandeurs pourront de nouveau soumettre leur dossier.

Les portes ouvrent ce matin à 8h30. En tout, 750 dossiers de parrainage seront étudiés par le Ministère. Seulement 100 pourront être déposés par des particuliers qui souhaitent parrainer un groupe de deux à cinq personnes. C’est surtout les parrains pour cette catégorie de dossier qui étaient en file hier. «On imagine qu’il va y avoir bien plus que 100 personnes, donc je m’assure de ma place pour que le messager prenne ma place demain», explique une dame, cinquième en ligne, installée dans une chaise pliante.

Stratégie commune

Tous ont la même stratégie : attendre leur messager, qui prendra la relève pour déposer leur dossier. Car aucun dossier remis en mains propres ne sera accepté, les documents devront obligatoirement être déposés par service de messagerie.

«Moi, il est là avec moi déjà», a lancé une femme, pointant l’homme à ses côtés. Elle a payé le messager pour la nuit, afin d’être certaine que sa demande soit parmi les premières déposées.

«Le fait de devoir venir faire la ligne comme ça démontre qu’il n’y a pas assez de place pour les demandes de parrainage», a observé une jeune femme, assise sur son sac de couchage, à côté d’une amie. «Ceux qui n’auront pas notre chance vont devoir attendre une autre année, a-t-elle ajouté. Mais on parle de réfugiés, et beaucoup d’entre eux ne peuvent pas attendre un an.»

«Chacun pour soi»

«Je ne suis vraiment pas confiante, j’ai peur qu’administrativement, ce soit le chaos demain», a avoué une des personnes en ligne. Autour d’elle, plusieurs ont hoché la tête, en signe d’approbation.

Elle a également indiqué craindre un grand désordre à l’ouverture des portes du ministère. «On ne sait pas ce qui va arriver quand la file va s’étendre et qu’il y aura plus de demandes que ce qu’ils vont accepter.»

«Ce que je trouve dommage, c’est que ça nous oblige à être chacun pour soi, pour s’assurer sa place, alors qu’on veut tous aider des gens», ajoute une autre dame, à ses côtés.

Hier soir, les quelques personnes en file ont inscrit leur nom, en ordre sur une feuille, pour avoir une liste de leur ordre d’arrivée. «C’est très informel, on ne sait même pas si ça va être respecté», s’est-elle inquiétée.

«Je pense que le Ministère fait de son mieux, a quant à lui affirmé le premier citoyen dans la file. Mais ça pourrait être mieux organisé, c’est certain, car la demande est vraiment très haute par rapport au nombre de places. Beaucoup de dossiers se sont accumulés depuis l’arrêt du programme.»

Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

To be fair to the government, the Syrian refugee program was set up with better outcome tracking in place, to allow for a higher quality evaluation at the five-year mark. Census 2021 will also provide a good sense of how well Syrian refugees have done, both PSRs and GARs.

I suspect that some of the lack of interim information may reflect the pressures for regular data on asylum seekers; indeed while monthly operational data is updated regularly, quarterly and annual reporting is slower (e.g., quarterly citizenship operational data dates from June 2017):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to welcome 25,000 refugees from Syria was aimed at showing voters his compassion. The followup photo opportunities he arranged in 2015 with smiling Syrian refugees, such as doctors, drew international headlines.

Once in power, Trudeau’s Liberals switched the name of the Immigration Department to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to highlight their concern for those forced to leave chaotic home countries, especially Syria.

Given the grand gestures, you would be forgiven for believing the federal Liberals and the department responsible for refugees would be tracking the fate of the tens of the thousands of struggling Syrians that Canada has recently taken in.

But, after more than two weeks of inquiries by Postmedia, a media relations officer acknowledged the department has not produced any report in almost two years on the about 50,000 Syrian refugees now in Canada.

Canada’s auditor general is among the unamused. The Liberals had a plan to monitor whether the mostly Arabic-speaking refugees were learning English, working, receiving social assistance and going to school, but the government has failed to follow through, said auditor general Michael Ferguson. It is Ottawa’s responsibility, he said, to make sure Syrians refugees “integrate into Canadian society.”

The federal Liberals are not following the more transparent approach of Sweden and Germany, which took in the largest numbers of the 2.6 million mostly-Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016. The governments of those countries are providing extensive data on refugee outcomes, in addition to launching waves of job-training programs.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did, to be fair, release a one-year-after report on Syrian refugees in December, 2016. It was moderately helpful, since it showed half the privately sponsored refugees had jobs in Canada. But employment fell to 10 per cent among the larger cohort of “government-assisted” refugees, who are typically less educated and often illiterate.

The early Ottawa report also touched on how, after refugees’ first year in Canada, they are cut off from direct stipends from the federal government.

How have things gone for Syrian refugees in Canada in the almost two years since that lone departmental report? No one really knows. That’s unlike in Sweden and Germany, where refugee programs are increasingly thorny electoral issues.

Sweden has discovered, for instance, that, despite creating hundreds of “fast-track” job-training programs for recent refugees, only one third of those who completed a two-year full-time integration program in 2017 were working or studying three months later.

Refugees in Germany have done a bit better, but three-quarters are working in jobs needing few skills and with poor prospects. Unemployment is exceedingly high.

How is integration going in Canada?

When Postmedia sought answers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a media official provided the website of another public-relations official at another department, who recommended contacting Canadian academics, who either didn’t respond, had nothing to say or suggested contacting yet other academics. It’s known as “getting the runaround.” It may eventually bear fruit, but who knows?

One non-governmental source in B.C., however, did have some helpful informal insights about what’s happening in this  province, the destination of about one in 10 Syrian refugees.

Maggie Hosgood, who has helped coordinate more than 100 B.C. United Church congregations that have privately sponsored 65 Syrian families, said most refugees “are doing all right,” with good outcomes for children, especially girls, who attend public schools.

But most refugees, many of whom end up in Burnaby, are struggling to afford housing in hyper-costly Metro Vancouver. In addition, Hosgood estimated roughly one in four Syrian adults are on welfare.

Unlike the highly educated refugees who Trudeau mingles with for photo opportunities, most Syrian refugees have jobs that require few skills, such as cleaners or jobs in shops where they don’t have to speak English.

Many Syrians are struggling to learn English in the classroom, Hosgood said, regretting that the former federal Conservative government did away with a program in which refugees could, at the same time, learn both English and a trade.

There are positive exceptions. Some male refugees are bakers, candy makers or mechanics. One carpenter, Hosgood said, has developed a thriving business, learning English while he works. “He’s got plans.”

As German and Swedish government officials are discovering, Hosgood also confirmed many Middle Eastern “husbands don’t want their wives to work.” They think, she said, the woman should stay at home and the husband should provide for the family.

“The Canada Child Benefit has been a godsend for most families,” Hosgood said, echoing a study suggesting most Syrian parents come with three to four children, sometimes eight or 10. “Big families would be doing very well.”

Syrian mothers and fathers with four children can get about $50,000 a year in various taxpayer-funded social-service benefits. The Canada Child Benefit provides $6,400 a year for each child under six and $5,400 for children between six and 17, while provincial welfare can give about $12,000 a year to each adult.

Hosgood said many of the grateful Syrian refugees, who know how to stretch their money,  are now starting to sponsor relatives to come to Canada.

Integrating refugees into the well-off West requires playing the long game. European countries have found that refugees’ full entry into the taxpaying workforce often doesn’t approach the national average for a couple of decades.

Instead of posturing in photo opportunities, Canada’s governing politicians need to follow Europe and track what is happening on the difficult ground. It’s impossible to create effective integration programs if no one knows what’s working and what’s not.

Source: Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees