by Ferdose Idris
“Canada is the unicorn” when it comes to migration said Ben Rempel, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Education and Training at the Office of Immigration and Economic opportunity. This is because Canada is one of the few, if not only, countries where provinces share power with the federal government to set migration numbers. Many provinces feel they do not have the workers and immigrants needed to fill the need within their industries.
In addition there has been a grassroots movement to increase the number of refugees within various communities across Canada. “You have to look at the humanitarian side of it first,” said Greg Janzen, Reeve of Emerson-Franklin municipality. A Reeve is the equivalent of a mayor for a collection of towns. Although increases in asylum-seekers has raised security concerns for border towns in Canada like Emerson, the community, overall, has maintained a positive and supportive role for asylum seekers and newcomers. I found this largely to be the perspective of most Canadians. Nearly all Canadians I have spoken to see immigration as a humanitarian obligation and a benefit to their communities.
One example of this type of grassroots, bottom up approach to the refugee problem is Altona’s “Build A Village” organization. Founded in part by Ray Loewen, a leading figure in Altona’s community, “Build a village,” focuses on refugee relocation. He brought rural resettlement to Altona after reading an article that made the argument that the current qualifications for resettlement could be met within rural communities. Common understanding was that resettlement couldn’t work in rural communities cause you did not have a “critical mass to sponsor families,” however it has been largely successful in these regions. The community started by resettling one family into thousand and five and has since resettled 30 families and over 200 people.
Amy Loewen, a community volunteer with two young boys, aged four and two, has become close friends with many of the refugee families resettled in Altona. It’s just so “surprising to me that there are so many road blocks in other communities when it really has not cost us anything” said Loewen of their resettlement experience. Altona is home to refugees from Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Palestine, and many other nations. As she spoke with me she reiterated how beneficial and enriching her experience has been getting to know refugees from all walks of life, “we are richer for it.” Most of Altona’s population are themselves first, second, or third generation immigrants to Canada, and they have not forgotten their past.