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Introduction by Alan Broadbent

Introduction by Alan Broadbent

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Published by cwulff
This four-page excerpt is the introduction to Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada.
This four-page excerpt is the introduction to Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada.

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Published by: cwulff on Aug 10, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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 Alan Broadbent
Rahmi M. Koç Museum is a large ceramic wall map of the region. My colleague Ratna Omidvar and I were visiting in 2008 as part of a meeting of the European foundation community where we were presenting our fledgling Cities of Migration program. As we passed the map, Ratna paused and began to show me the route she and her husband Mehren followed as they fled Iran. She traced their path through the north of Iran into Eastern Turkey recounting the danger and difficulty. As she talked a small group of people stopped to listen to her story, and then began to ask her questions and engage with her in her journey. It was then I realized the power of these stories of migration, their fascinating mix of personality, character, politics and geography. Ratna and I spoke about it after, and I think of that as the genesis of this book.Canadian governments have always been perplexed by refugees. In the 1920s, Frederick Blair, assistant deputy minister in the federal Depart-ment of Immigration and Colonization, said about Armenian refugees, “A refugee coming to our shores … naturally would have to be housed, fed and found employment or become permanently a public charge.”
  And he went on to note that refugees would likely become “a permanent problem to Canada.”
1 Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, “Armenian Refugees and Their Entry into Canada, 1919-30,
Canadian Historical Review
, Vol. 71, Issue 1 (1990): 85.
Later an unnamed immigration official was asked how many Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis would be accepted by Canada, and re-sponded, “None is too many.” The federal government was slow to act on Hungarian refugees fleeing the repression of the 1956 Revolution be-fore bowing to public pressure to remove health inspections and security checks to speed up intake. And the same reluctance to facilitate process-ing of refugees occurred following the 1973 military coup in Chile which overthrew a democratically elected government. And even today govern-ment ministers seem suspicious of refugees, characterizing them as “bo-gus” and “phony” while withdrawing services in spite of a long history of provision that, in the case of legal aid, stems from Supreme Court rules. The Supreme Court may again be called upon to step in to decide the fate of federal cuts to health care for refugees. But many Canadians have always been ahead of their governments in their acceptance and embrace of refugees and other migrants, and have eventually forced government to catch up. My own family in the 1950s took in Estonians fleeing from the Soviet Union oppression of their coun-try. Many Canadians have done the same over the years, often through church groups or other neighbourhood associations. At our best, Cana-dians privately sponsored 34,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in just two years between 1979 and 1980.
 Maytree’s first experience with refugees began in the late 1970s and early 1980s when our attention was brought to the people fleeing the Pinochet regime in Chile. We looked at some data which showed that the arriving Chileans had much higher education attainments than the Canadian average, and that they had significant work experience in the professions, academia, and commerce. It was also clear from anecdotal evidence that they were highly motivated, energetic, and engaged in so-ciety.
2 Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “Summative Evaluation of the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program: Final Report,” April 2007, accessed July 10, 2014.
 We began to learn more about refugees generally and were struck with several things:
Refugees are a threat to tyrants because they have economic, intel-lectual, or social power;
Refugees have drive and an ambition for a better life for themselves and their families;
Refugees also desire a better society, and are prepared to work for it; and
Refugees will find their way to a place with better prospects.It struck us that those were exactly the qualities we valued in our fellow Canadian citizens who were the leaders in our communities across the country. Canada has been built by people who had developed economic, intellectual and social power, who had the drive and ambition to build a better country as they helped their own family prosper, and who were practical enough to create success. The evidence is certainly clear that refugees have been an enormous benefit to Canada over time. In fact it is as close to a sure bet as you can find, the kind of investment that the commercial world would call a “home run.” We also discovered that each refugee had a story to tell that was inspir-ing and instructive. Those stories validated that the great efforts required to move to a safer place indeed produce the ability to make a better life.  And each story has the power to teach us a lesson of how we can help make these transitions better. They tell us that when we try to make things difficult for refugees, nobody wins. Of course Canada needs to be alert to security and safety issues, so visible in the post 9/11 world, but our laws and security agencies are well equipped to manage these. We cannot let fear mongering and scape-goating put barriers in front of the many to nab the few who would have been caught anyway. Again this is where Canadians have been far ahead of their govern-ments: church groups or families taking in refugees; communities crafting welcoming environments; municipalities establishing effective settlement

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