Lorina Hoxha, UofMosaic Fellow
In light of the Canadian Government’s recent fulfillment of its promise to settle 25,000 refugees by the end of February, The UofMosaic Fellows at UofT, St. George campus thought it would be an opportune moment to host discussion on this issue. We were specifically interested in designing a panel event that would dispel some of the misinformation surrounding the refugee intake process by hearing from people who work or have experienced this process from various vantage points. With numbers often being thrown out of context and presented in isolation, media outlets are reporting that concern about further intake is rising and the topic is becoming increasingly contentious. It is critical in such a milestone moment that Canadians not resign to simply celebrating successes, but also continue to push Canada’s leaders to lead the way in championing global social justice. Our hope was that our event would help clear up the anxieties of those that are resistant to further intake, as well as be informative for those that are already supportive but perhaps lack an understanding of what refugees encounter upon arrival to Canada and what kind of assistance they need.
As our discussant Dana Wagner noted, the panelists represented the issue from all levels: international, national, local, and individual. They included Michael Casasola, a Resettlement Officer with the UNHCR, Deborah Tunis, Special Coordinator for Syrian refugee resettlement for the Government of Canada, Nancy Henderson, Clinic Director at Parkdale Community Legal Services, and Hajir Sharifi, freelance journalist and former refugee from Iran. Mr. Casasola described the timeline of the process one would have to go through to attain refugee status with the UNHCR, and the various bureaucratic steps that follow before resettlement. Mrs. Tunis followed by detailing the process of resettlement within Canada, the difference between privately and publicly sponsored refugees, various initiatives that the Government is putting forward to help those that have arrived, and future plans now that the quota has been met. Mrs. Henderson, who works on the ground in Parkdale, where most new immigrants settle upon arrival to Toronto, detailed some of the issues that newcomers face: they often can only afford to live in overcrowded and precarious housing, and have trouble finding jobs regardless of their prior qualifications. Mr. Sharifi described his own, often painful, experience with the international refugee intake processes detailed by Mr. Casasola and Mrs. Tunis, and shared his striking photographs from his time volunteering in Iraqi and Syrian refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Perhaps the most of rewarding part of this panel was hearing the small discrepancies between the experience of those looking at the issue on the ground and those that have to deal with its much larger scale. There were moments of tension between panelists’ views, with all having developed their particular perspective from their own valid experiences. Bringing together people that work on all sides proved conducive to fostering constructive dialogue, because it provided an opportunity for those discrepancies to be brought to light and discussed openly. The event reached maximum attendance and was well received, and we are particularly thankful to UofMosaic Fellow Spencer Adrian McMurray for leading the initiative, the Peace Conflict & Justice Society at UofT for collaborating with us, as well as to the wonderful panelists and discussant for their insights.