Symposium examines challenge of migration and the refugee experience
By a Staff Reporter
A symposium hosted at Saint Mary’s University on March 23, presented ideas on the theme “My Place, My Home: The Settlement of Refugees in Halifax.” The symposium was organized by scholarship student Diane Govindsamy, sponsored by the Gorsebrook Research Institute.
Shiva Noorpanah of Atlantic Metropolis presented some of the challenges Afghan refugee women have experienced in Canada. She rejected the notion that refugees are a “voiceless people—a people, who deprived of citizenship are deprived of rights.”
In refugee homes she visited, she said the home décor was a reflection of their individual identities: some secular, others religious. “Even their dress makes a political statement—some wearing the scarf, others discarding it.”
She also made the point that the narrative of honour killings among Afghan refugees playout in a stressful way for the young setting out to school. But Afghan teenagers, she said, are coping well. “The act of Afghan girls going to schools is an act of defiance because it breaks the social order. These tensions playout nonetheless,” she said.
She says, there is a willingness on the part of Afghan men—especially those who are not religious, to preside over the natural progression of their kids as they grow and make their own choices.
Noorpanah said Afghan refugees see Canada as a haven, where they feel at home, at peace and secure. She also said some Afghan refugees are glad to step away from one’s own cultural patina. Many have no fond memories of Afghanistan, many do not have strong connections with that country. So, it’s possible for refugees to have a positive life and contribute to society.”
Professor Christopher John Doran presented ideas on the construction of the neo-liberal immigrant. With reference to his own migration from Ireland to Luton first, and later to Canada, he spoke of the temporal aspect of the migrant experience, “a biographical trajectory” to find out how this works in time.
He was commenting on the structure within which an immigrant lives and his position within it. He pointed to forces that cause career and ideological changes because of the struggle against dominant discourses.
Doran’s parents had migrated to Luton in England where he grew up in a welfare state. “It was here that my struggle for the truth began—exposed to the Marxist mode which made no sense to me.”
But as neo-liberalism across the globe emerged, he immigrated to Canada to do his Masters. “I was ignorant of the calculating Canadian state,” he says. Doran says he had to temporarily shift from sociology to criminology in order to get employed. And so, in a sense he got reshaped.
He calls this governmentality—the power/knowledge axis for assembling the individuals for this imaginary new liberalism.
“In Canada, I am a product of governmentality,” he says.
Julie Chamagne of the Halifax Refugee Clinic presented the challenges of the asylum seeker, whose status is significantly different from the government-assisted refugee.
Canada admits refuges because it is a signatory to the Geneva Convention on refugees and its admission policy is governed by the definition. It deems that a refugee is one who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion and is outside the country of his nationality.
But whereas a government-assisted refugee or a privately sponsored refugee are given permanent residence and a secure status, this is not true for the asylum seeker whose refugee hearing at a tribunal within 19 months could well decide that he is not admissible.
Chamagne said that during that time the asylum seeker is given no access to legal aid nor access to government-funded settlement services. Of course, he may apply for a work permit. But during the wait period, he stays away from family.
She dismissed the myths about Canada’s altruism, pointing to statistics which show that Tanzania alone admitted more refugees in 2006 than Canada, France, Australia, the US, Germany or Spain.
In 2010 Canada admitted 12,035 refugees. These were refugees from Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, El Salvador, Albania, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Libya, Haiti, Hungary and Kosovo.
Chamagne was critical of Bill C-31, a two-tier system which deems that a refugee may not have access to appeal depending upon the country of origin. “It’s disconcerting to see that a minister can unilaterally predetermine which arrivals are irregular and which countries are safe” she said.
She said refugees arriving from countries such as Hungary or Mexico could be imprisoned for as long as a year and this is unconstitutional. “These people cannot apply for family reunification and the social ramifications are huge.”