New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 14:35

Feeling Like a Stranger at Home

Commentary by Laska Paré in Toronto

“If you were born in Canada, you won!” was the catchphrase that came to mind during my flight's turbulent descent into Toronto airport. The next thing I knew, flight EK 241 was making harsh contact with the runway, followed by the pilot’s announcement: “Welcome to Toronto Pearson International Airport.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Am I really here? After twenty-nine months, am I finally back?

I stood up slowly, as you do after a 14-hour flight and let out a big sigh of relief.

I was back in Canada, my home and native land.

As I trudged through the airport, I considered how elated my grandma would be. During my time away, she always made it a point to end our calls by reminding me that people around the world were dying to get into Canada, hoping to create stable opportunities for themselves and their families.

And there I was, instead, gallivanting to every developing Asian country I could locate on a map. 

The birthright lottery

Having won the birthright lottery, that is, a Canadian passport, I've always felt as if it was my duty and responsibility to understand the value of my citizenship. My grandma was right – people risk their lives for a chance to have a decent life in Canada.

But, I've also always wanted to know more about the struggle of newcomers and perhaps gain a better understanding of how immigrants and dual citizens identify once they are in Canada. Do they identify as strangers? Does Canada ever truly feel like their home?

Two and a half years have passed since I set foot on Canadian soil. For some, that seems like a lifetime to go without seeing family, friends, or a house pet.

But after living across Asia and witnessing the sacrifices people make to provide for their family – seeing their spouses and children on a short holiday once a year, if that, for example – my absence and sacrifice seem very brief and insignificant.  

Defining Strangers at Home

A "stranger" is an individual who does not belong as her position in a group is determined by the fact that she has not belonged to it from the beginning. A "home" may be understood to be a place where individuals experience a sense of security and are comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Therefore, feeling like a stranger suggests that an individual does not identify with the people around him, and consequently, does not belong or does not feel accepted in the place that he identifies as home.

As I took my place in the "citizen" queue in the customs hall, I couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong.

By now, I knew bits of several languages, had become accustomed to eating rice with my hands, greeted people by saying “Namaste” and mastered the skill of washing my hair upside-down in a bucket. My norms, customs and mannerisms would come across as abnormal to the rest of my native, Canadian comrades. For the first time, I felt like a stranger at home.

Understanding the Other

The customs officer signaled that it was okay for me to approach the counter. He flipped through my passport – pages now filled with stamps and visas – and without a question about my two-and-a-half-year absence, waved me through with a jaunty, “Welcome home.”

I looked back at the long line of anxious visitors, hands filled with papers and documents. Not only had I travelled all over Asia without struggle, but I was able to come “home” after an extended trip and not be questioned about my absence.

It was in that moment that I understood why all the sacrifice and risk was worth the chance in Canada.

Now settled in Toronto, not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for my citizenship.

While I’m still adjusting to life in the city, there’s no question I’ve gained a better understanding of how new immigrants and dual citizens may feel upon their arrival in Canada, as I now identify with countries and ethnic groups not part of my country of origin.

After so much sacrifice in the hopes for a better life, the ambiguity around identity and desire to identify with one’s new “home” must be difficult for new residents. Building a new life is one thing; however, reconstructing one’s sense of belonging to a nation must require time. 

As I greeted my uncle in the arrivals hall and looked around at the room filled with diverse faces, I realized that to identify as a stranger is to empathize with all Canadians – because diversity has built our land.

An experienced mentor to women in business and the youth, Laska has an unshakeable passion for writing. Inspired by helping people realize their human potential, when not coaching a client or sitting at her computer creating engaging content, you will find her outside seeking adventure.

Published in Arts & Culture

by Eddie Ameh in Toronto 

As Rakan Almasri waited for his childhood friends to arrive in Canada last week, it seemed to him to mark yet another leg in a journey that has been years in the making.

After leaving his successful small business in the Syrian city of Homs behind to seek safety in Iskenderun, Turkey, he’s now found himself in Toronto, hoping to find a job to feed his family of six.

Successful businessman back home

On December 10, Almasri, 44, welcomed Ziad Khabbaz and Mazen Khaabaz when they arrived at the Toronto Pearson International Airport as refugees. Feeling somewhat nostalgic as he waited, Almasri reflected on his life back home in Syria. 

An electrical engineer by training, Almasri was a contractor who provided spare parts for industrial power plants and other facilities in the energy sector. “I was very comfortable. I had my own office, my own car and my own house,” he says.

Almasri’s wife, a trained teacher, taught primary school in a government school in Homs. The couple has five children. 

He says when the war broke out, he had to move his family out of Homs to a safe place. While there, he heard his house had been burnt down and looted. “I lost everything. During the war, you can’t do business, you can’t do anything,” Almasri says.

“I was very comfortable. I had my own office, my own car and my own house."

Since leaving in 2012, Almasri has not set eyes on his house or office. He says it might be difficult locating it since the area has always been at the centre of intense fighting.

Life in Iskenderun 

When Almasri noticed things were becoming more difficult and his family’s security was no longer guaranteed, he packed up their bags and left Syria. “We decided to leave because there was no security for us and we have to find a future for our children,” he says.

The family got in touch with some friends in Iskenderun, Turkey who agreed to host them for two weeks. They rented a place afterwards. 

Almasri that he could not work as an engineer like he use to back in Homs.

It was difficult staying in Turkey, according to the family. “We found a small house, not like ours back home,” he says.

In this new country, the reality dawned on Almasri that he could not work as an engineer like he use to back in Homs. He had to work as a clerk at a company that imported automobile parts in Iskenderun. While he was away at work, his wife had to take care of their children, so she worked at a daycare to supplement the family’s income.

Canada and the hope for a better future

Almasri and his family were eventually brought to Canada by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, an organization that has sponsored a number of families and hopes to bring more.

“It was only a few decades ago that our community (Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at), also came to Canada as refugees seeking refuge because of the persecution in Pakistan,” says Safwan Choudhry, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at. “Doing this to Syrian refugees is not only our responsibility as successful Canadians, but [it is important] to give to these Syrian refugees who desperately need our help.”

“Whatever job, I will do [it] to support my family."

Almasri says he is happy to be in Canada because it’s peaceful and will provide a better future for his children. Even though he’s sad for his family, especially his children who had to leave their home and their friends behind, “at least, we are secured here.”

Almasri may have succeeded in coming to Canada but he has other family back home. Two of his sisters live in Homs while another two are living in Turkey. He hopes they’ll join him soon, but as long as they are safe he’s happy. “I’ll bring my mother and sisters from Turkey, inshallah [God willing],” he says.

Finding employment in Canada

On the evening the Khabbaz family arrived at the airport, Almasri translated for those in attendance. He says it’s a job he’s obligated to do because he was the only person who speaks the same language as the Khabbaz family.

While it wasn’t a challenge for Almasri to help the reporters get their quotes, what is challenging is finding a job that will allow him to take care of his family in the long-term. 

“Whatever job, I will do [it] to support my family,” he says.

All he wants is for the war to be over so that those who might not be lucky like him can live happy lives back in Syria. “I hope there is justice,” he says. “The world is very big, we can all fit in [it], why are we fighting?”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Economy
Sunday, 13 December 2015 18:00

Refugees Reunited At Toronto Airport

by Eddie Ameh in Toronto

For Sammar Mian and Atief Sheikh and their families, waiting for more than four hours at the airport to welcome incoming Syrian refugees was worth every minute.

They are among the first private sponsors to bring Syrian refugees to their homes in Milton, Ontario. Mian and Sheikh are together hosting eleven Syrians in their homes. 

“We have no idea what they've been through, we don’t have any idea where they are coming from and how much they’ve suffered,” Mian says. “So we should try to be as helpful as we can.”

The government has started transporting thousands of Syrian refugees in fulfilment of its campaign promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would bring in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and an additional 15,000 refugees by the end of the February, although more will likely arrive over the next year.

The long wait at the airport

When the plane bringing the families of Ziad Khabbaz, 48, and his brother Mazen, 46, finally touched down on December 10th, those waiting at the airport thought it would be only moments before they met the new arrivals.

That was not the case as they had to process their permanent residence and other paperwork before leaving the airport. Overall, it took more than four hours for them to leave Terminal 1 of the Pearson International Airport. 

“They’re going to be surprised because it’s a big change for them,” Mian says.

Indeed the Khabbaz family and the other travellers seemed overwhelmed by the massive welcome they received from members of the Ahamadiyya Jama’at and Humanity First, two resettlement groups. 

Arriving to cheers and shouts was not what they anticipated. 

Rakhan Almasri, himself a refugee who arrived less than a week ago, translated for Khabbaz, who said in Arabic, “We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.”

Welcoming the children

Sheikh says his children are thrilled to be in Canada and can’t wait to start making new friends. “My children are really excited actually and want to know how children from other countries are and spend some time with them,” he says.

Eight-year-old Alisha Anwar, whose mother Mian is one of the hosts, says she can’t wait to meet the Syrian children. “I expect them to have fun and I hope to be friends with them and I expect them to be nice,” she says.

We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.

When the two families arrived, the Canadian children gave out gifts to their new friends. Despite the language barrier, they started playing and trying to speak to one another, hoping that the other would understand.

A new life in Canada

Ziad and Mazen Khabbaz fled their hometown of Homs three years ago when the war in Syria escalated. They stayed in Egypt for two and half years before finally coming to Canada.

“We will not only bring them here but we will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible,” says Ghlieb Baten, imam of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at at Milton.

The Milton branch of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at raised the funds for these two families to move to Canada. Baten says this is just the beginning. “God willing, this is going to be an ongoing process and we want to bring as many families as we possibly can,” he says.

"We will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible."

Both Mian and Sheikh are members of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at in Milton, which has now has kickstarted a campaign dubbed “A Better Future” that aims to bring in more refugees from Syria. Baten says helping the refugees is a biblical obligation.

Almasri and the Khabbazs have been friends their whole lives and grew up together in Homs. However, the civil war separated them three years ago. While Almasri fled to Turkey, Ziad and Mazen went to Egypt. 

The three embraced for a long time when they finally were reunited at the airport. Now, they are all going to stay together  — at least temporarily — in Milton.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

by Mark A. Cadiz in Toronto

Four million Syrians have fled their country and millions more are living in dire conditions in refugee camps. But very soon, a tiny fraction of them will be calling Canada home.

This week, the Canadian government will begin resettling refugees throughout the country, with priority given to those identified as the most vulnerable. This includes women at risk and complete families — most coming from Lebanon, Jordan and eventually Turkey.

One family that will set foot on Canadian soil in the coming days is Mahmoud Hussein Maree, 37, his wife Radiyah, 39, and four sons Hussain, 19, Mohammad, 18, Ahmad, 15, and Abdel Hamid, 5. They fled their home in Syria three years ago and have been living in Lebanon ever since.

The family’s life in Lebanon

“I decided to leave because I was afraid for the country. I was afraid for my children,” Maree says through a local interpreter. “And Lebanon was the closest to Syria."

Originally from Aleppo, one of the cities hardest hit by the civil war, Maree left everything behind — his home, his business, his sister — and took his wife and children to Lebanon. 

"I left with the clothes that were on me. I do not know what happened to my house or my clothes shop," he explains. "Now we have relatives in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. When we first left Syria we did not have any relatives in these places, but now we do."

Lebanon has now been pushed to its limits after the influx of Syrian refugees. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are approximately 1.4 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 

“I decided to leave because I was afraid for the country."

The country has absorbed the refugees but not without experiencing economic, political and social repercussions. Tensions are high and the economy and its resources strained.

Maree and his family, registered by the UNHCR as refugees over a year ago, are in the final stages of the screening process with Canadian officials and are supposed to leave for Canada this week, he says.

However, like many, Maree is unaware of where he will be staying in Canada or what steps will follow after his arrival.

“I don’t know, they haven’t told me. But I am very happy to go to Canada. I am going with the Canadian people because they are helping Syrians,” he says.

Screening process for refugees

Of the 10,000 refugees coming to Canada this year, roughly 80 per cent of them will be privately sponsored refugees. This means sponsors are responsible for the financial needs, accommodation, clothing and food for the first year of a family’s resettlement into Canada. 

The remaining 2,000 will be government-assisted refugees.

Despite security concerns and varied responses among Canadians, the reaction towards refugees has been positive overall.

Peter Goodspeed, spokesperson for the Toronto-based resettlement organization Lifeline Syria, says that anybody coming to Canada as a sponsored refugee will be scrutinized more heavily than anyone else entering the country.

"I am going with the Canadian people because they are helping Syrians."

“It’s pretty extensive,” he explains. “A refugee will be screened and registered by UNHCR first, then referred to Canada. They won’t refer any case to Canada if they think there is any remote possibility that there might be a security problem.”

Canadian immigration officers will have face-to-face interviews with the refugees and decide whether to continue with the process. If approved, the case goes forward for three separate security screenings with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the RCMP and Canadian Border Services.

Once refugees have passed all necessary checks, a doctor will perform medical examinations on-location and give them visas to come to Canada. At this point, they will immediately become permanent residents.

According to the Government of Canada, refugees will then be welcomed by Border Services and a final verification of identity will be completed at the point of arrival in Canada. 

The family’s imminent arrival in Canada

At the time we spoke with Maree in Lebanon, he didn’t know too much about Canada. From what he’s heard, “Canadians were down to earth people.” This was enough for Maree when he was faced with the decision to either apply to the U.S. or Canada.  

It’s been a long wait for the family, but their application has recently been fast-tracked by the Canadian government.

“It was very excellent (the refugee process). It was not difficult for me Alhamdullilah (Praise be to God). They (UNHCR) contacted me and I went to the interviews — about five of them. I have not kept count. I have another interview on December 8th and then we will be travelling to Canada,” he says.

Maree will leave behind his extended family in Syria and other family members scattered throughout Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who are also refugees.

“I am indebted to the Canadian people because they want to help the Syrian people. I am very, very happy,” Maree says.  

As of Dec. 3, 1,341 refugees have been issued permanent residence, but have yet to arrive. Another 9,694 are currently being processed according to the Government of Canada.

Photo Credit: UNHCR

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories

 

News East West

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday rolled out a ambitious plan to grant visa-on-arrival (VoA) and prior electronic travel authorization (ETA) to people from 180 countries.

The plan will come into force by October by which time the government would have put in place infrastructure, including more staff and immigration

News East West

Read Full Article

Published in India

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image