The many confusing paths to Canada

Speaker event to shed light on the realities of Canada’s refugee policies

On Feb. 6, Seid Oumer Ahmed will lead Speaking Up: Refugees in Manitoba, the latest in the Speaking Up speaker series held by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), an independent, non-partisan research institute concerned with issues of social, economic and environmental justice.

Ahmed, who works with the Manitoba Network of Newcomer Serving Organizations, a local immigration settlement service, is hoping to focus on “Canada’s immigration policies on refugees, just to show whether we have a fair immigration process,” he says. “A lot of people might not understand the immigration pathway for refugees, how people are coming to Canada.”

Ahmed says the sheer number of pathways, from government-assisted immigration to private sponsorship, blended sponsorship and the Federal Skilled Worker Program to name just a few, can lead to confusion about the nature of Canada’s refugee population. He will address in detail how many people pass through the different streams and where people from these different streams land.

Ahmed himself came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in 2003.

“Back home for me is Ethiopia. My background is journalism. I worked as an anchor person/reporter for the only state-owned media. I want to show my own experience, why I left my country of origin, why I came here and what options I had before I left Ethiopia, and then the experience I had as a refugee claimant.”

Ahmed’s journey through the system was complicated, and he worries some aspects of the process may become more complicated through the federal government’s introduction of a quality assurance program that could be used against vulnerable refugees.

Ahmed says he has been proud of Canada’s work in accepting refugees, especially the intake of Syrian refugees, the success of which he says the general public does not seem to totally know.

He’s also excited for the two-year pilot program for refugees to sponsor immediate family members not declared initially, as well as the reduction in time that someone needs to be living in Canada before they can apply for citizenship. But there are still concerns.

“We are perceived as compassionate, as the leaders in accepting refugees, but the (actual number of refugees Canada accepts), even though we can be very proud of it, is not really that big,” he says.

In 2019, there were a total of 81,275 applications, with 42,708 referrals, 19,423 acceptances, 10,708 rejections, and the rest being withdrawn or abandoned, with India, Mexico and Nigeria providing the biggest pool of applicants.

“You look at how many are coming through the government-assistance program, where the government is responsible for supporting the family for one year, but most refugees are coming though family links and privately sponsored programs,” he says, which means family and friends are responsible for the caretaking for a year, “which is a huge responsibility.”

Molly McCracken, director of the Manitoba offices of the CCPA, says this presentation fits with the work the CCPA has been supporting and researching on providing those supports.

“We’ve had a particular focus on housing. We’ve looked at (Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba)’s model of holistic wraparound support for refugees and compared that with refugees who do not have the same level of support and found that holistic support really helps people in their first couple years,” she says.

McCracken says she hopes to see more governments, provincial and federal, contribute more funding to refugee support programs.

Speaking Up: Refugees in Manitoba will be held on Feb. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at X-Cues’ Cafe and Lounge (551 Sargent Ave.).

Published in Volume 74, Number 17 of The Uniter (February 6, 2020)

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