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Refugee crisis
by Jay Gutman
2016-07-09 10:30:36
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I am very fortunate to have Canadian friends who worked with refugees in Canada, some of them since the 70s. They have seen a lot of refugees, from the Iranians and Lebanese in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, to refugees from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, to Bosnian and Algerian refugees in the 90s, to African refugees all the way to the Soviet Union and the Far East.

If you believe them, there has always been a refugee crisis. Years spent working with them taught them a little bit of common sense. It’s sad that the media never talks to them.

ref01_400_05The first blunder the media does, so they tell me, is to group refugees by nationality. My Canadian friends say that the Iranian refugee will readily befriend the Haitian, Nicaraguan or Soviet refugee, but will usually try to avoid fellow Iranians. Many reasons compel them to do so. Iranians in Iran weren’t sure whether they should be Shias or Communists, Baha’I or Sunnis. Revealing that aspect of their identity could lead to torture and death in the country they fled, so Iranians felt safer surrounded by Hondurans than by fellow Iranians. Hondurans also felt safer with Haitians or Cambodians than with fellow Hondurans, and so on.

Refugees often left because their neighbors or cousins could have killed them, and want to rebuild their lives from scratch. Some of them were held by their own brothers or fathers at gunpoint, other spent 20 years in social and economic isolation. If your own brother wants to kill you, why would you want to go back to your country if peace is ever restored. They may go back to their countries in 30 years’ time, but around that time they will stay at a hotel or in a town far from their hometown, often with a new identity.

I’ve been told that most refugees change their names to more Canadian names once they obtain Canadian citizenship and don’t want to be reminded of their background. Haitians want to pass as third generation African-Canadians, Middle Easterners tend to mask their accent with imaginary Eastern European backgrounds.

When it comes to marriage, modest economic ability and difficulties adapting to the local culture means they often marry someone from the same or from a similar background, and will improvise more of a third culture rather than behave the way they would back home. Their children may hold their parents’ citizenship label but very little of their native culture will be transmitted by their own parents.

Most refugees spend their time looking for information on jobs, and the job market has never been stellar. Many start off driving a taxi or working at cafés and restaurants before starting their business. Many open restaurants or dry cleaning businesses, both occupations often being assimilated with exhaustion and constant nausea.  

They tend to spread around the country, often have very few friends, often participate in no religious activities or community activities. Many don’t know what to give their children at the school’s multiculturalism event.

So here are some rules.

Rule number 1: Don’t ask them where they’re from. Don’t group them by citizenship. 

Rule number 2: They want to forget the past. Don’t ask them about the past.

Rule number 3: Don’t introduce them to people from their country unless they specifically make that request.

Rule number 4: Don’t blame the Americans on their wars, or anyone else. They know it’s a lot more complicated.

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