Author: mpauchet

Finding New Roots In Winnipeg

“It was really, really scary in the beginning,” said Tam Nguyen, who arrived in Canada from Vietnam as a refugee in 1980. He was one of the so-called “boat people,” or the refugees that left Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War. Nguyen had been drafted into the Vietnamese Army, but deserted and left his family behind when he found that he was going to be deployed against the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He knew that he had to “get up and find a family, get a better life” than what he faced in Vietnam, where “no child played in war country.”

“I saw people die behind me,” he described. “My friend stepped on a land mine and had his legs blown off.” He and his friends did not have toys; all they had were bullets that they would cut apart and use to light up the night sky. Their soccer balls were made of banana leaves.

Nguyen left Vietnam on a tiny boat, only 2 by 10 meters. Eventually he was resettled in Winnipeg. He had been a tailor in Vietnam, so in 1986, after saving up enough money, Nguyen bought a tailor shop that he now proudly describes as “serving the Hollywood stars,” with actors like Brian Dennehy, Samuel Jackson, and LeVar Burton coming by his shop when they were in Winnipeg for movie shoots.

It hadn’t always been easy for him in Winnipeg. Then he first arrived, the fledgling Vietnamese community was split between those who supported the new Communist government and those that supported the fallen Republic of Vietnam. These were men that “had too much politics in their hearts,” said Nguyen.

And this split between Vietnamese groups became especially controversial when Nguyen started a charity, Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam (CHKV), to send money back to Vietnam, which drew a backlash from those in the Vietnamese community who vehemently opposed the Communist government. As Nguyen put it, “I don’t like the Communists, but I still love my country, my family.” Nguyen did not want to get involved in politics. He just wanted to support his remaining family members in Vietnam and others that wanted to go to school. To date, CHKV had assisted over 250 families with $25 payments to assist with school fees, and had built nine schools throughout the country.

Nguyen saw the most recent group of refugees as just like them and tried to welcome them. He provided financial assistance for a Congolese family when they first arrived in Winnipeg, and he held a fundraiser at his newly-opened pho restaurant for the Salvation Army to raise money for refugee resettlement. He understood the newcomers, since “I help people because when I was in a boat I almost died.”

Tan Nguyen opened a pho restaurant two years ago, adding to Winnipeg’s diverse culinary scene

We Actually Need These People

by Tobias Stoner

Winnipeg, Canada – After the last national elections, the Liberal party dramatically raised Canada’s target for annual immigration levels, and the Conservative provincial government in Manitoba was unhappy. They wanted even more people. According to Ben Rempel, Manitoba’s Assistant Deputy Minister for Immigration and Economic Opportunities, the federal government didn’t have to pressure provinces to take more people. In fact, he says, the federal minister jokes about being the world’s only immigration minister under pressure to allow more people into the country.
As hostility to immigrants sweeps through the West, bolstering the fortunes of hardline nationalists from the US to Hungary, Canada is taking a different approach. “We built a successful public policy of immigration and resettlement on a foundation of public support,” says Mr. Rempel. This welcoming posture has three primary motives, he explains: economics, a sense of moral obligation, and a bid for international stature.
“That’s certainly the Prime Minister’s hope – that this will get us a seat on the United Nations Security Council,” says Brian Dyck, the National Migration and Resettlement Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada. He’s already seen increased interest in Canada’s system in his own work, and this afternoon flew to Ireland to help develop their resettlement program based on the Canadian model.
Equally important, Mr. Rempel highlights, is the economic boost that immigrants and refugees provide to the Canadian economy. Welcoming them is “not just a good thing to do, it’s a necessary thing for our economic vitality – that’s an opportunity,” he says. As the US threatens to deport young undocumented workers, he says, “we’re looking at them, and we’re saying ‘come on down’ – or ‘come on up!’” He also emphasizes Manitoba’s commitment to integration, noting the province’s preference to accept people as legal permanent residents rather than temporary workers, and recent legislation aimed at protecting labor rights for temporary workers who do come. “The legislation sent a message,” says Mr. Rempel, “What had been a wild west mentality really started to get cleaned up.” Because new arrivals more quickly reach the economic standards of native Canadians when they have permanent status. Legal permanent residents have all rights enjoyed by citizens except for the vote, and can apply for naturalization three years after arriving. Canada needs these new citizens, he emphasizes, to maintain its economy as the current population ages.
Public support also drives this welcoming posture. Many white Manitobans descend from refugees themselves, and there’s been a “fairly explicit discourse” invoking that heritage, says Mr. Rempel. Mr. Dyck of MCC, which started privately sponsored resettlement in Canada, agrees. When the Canadian government decided to accept nearly 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, Canadians rushed to sponsor them, volunteering tens of thousands of dollars per family.
“Canada is looked at as a leader right now,” says Mr. Dyck, “in some ways that’s unfortunate,” because it reflects a US abdication of that role. “I want the US to be a leader,” he says, “you’re ten times our size.” Canada’s accepting about 25,000 refugees this year, he says, and if the US took a proportional number it would welcome nearly 250,000. In the meantime, says Mr. Rempel, Canada is glad for its new residents.
“It’s not just a humanitarian impulse – we actually need these people.”

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