YMCA event mulls challenges of newcomers and host societies
By a Staff Reporter
Welcoming the World and taking up the Challenge was the focus of a YMCA luncheon workshop on May 21 in Halifax. The event was well attended with academics from the universities, TESL teachers, newcomers and settlement agency staff present. Geoff Regan, M.P. also took a keen interest in the workshop.
The workshop was addressed by Fadia Ismail, manager, community relations, of the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs.
Through a slide presentation, Ismail talked about how the cultural mosaic in the provinces challenges us to change, learn and be culturally competent.
Immigration to the province has been growing lately with 2,653 newcomers moving to Halifax in 2008. Ismail pointed out that youth was an important component. Youth between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for 15 per cent of the arrival of newcomers between 2002 and 2006.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada stats, 40 per cent of that youth component arrives from Africa and the Middle East. Nova Scotia plans to welcome at least 3,600 newcomers by 2010.
“But immigration is not driven by Canada’s altruism,” Ismail said. “The negative growth in the population, the lowering of the tax base and of consumption and the need for skills calls for increased immigration to balance the economy,” she said.
But with immigration comes other challenges, she said, pointing to language training, healthcare, credentials recognition, continuing education, family support, cultural competency, accessibility to programs and the fostering of welcoming societies.
She sought to dispel the myths and argued against the notion that immigrants are a burden on the economy, the myth that they raise the crime rate, take jobs from real Canadians, abuse the social welfare program and do not integrate.
“Many newcomers from some parts of the world dread the police and are therefore law abiding,” she said. “They take ordinary jobs offered to them and the record shows that newcomers are not the ones abusing social welfare programs,” she said.
Speaking about youth, Ismail warned that immigrant youth are not forming meaningful relationships with Canadian youth.
Their religious obligations, their dress and food habits and unwillingness to adjust to peer custom are sometimes barriers to integration, she said. Ismail was making the point that sometimes this leads to feelings of resentment, new life responsibilities become challenges, exclusion leads to isolation, and racism and identity issues create conflict within.
What can work to change the situation for newcomers, she said, are welcoming societies, equitable employment, access to affordable housing and to ESL training and the integration of youth in schools.
It’s important to treat people as individuals not as a member of a group, Ismail said. “Getting to know people’s religious obligations, custom and tradition goes a long way in integrating and making a difference”.