By Mustafa Alio : Until a couple of years ago, I never wanted to tell the people I met that I was a refugee claimant, I tried to justify hiding the truth about my status. I told myself if people know, they may respond to me with fear, hatred or at best, with sympathy. A refugee is a security threat or an economic liability, a refugee is a creature that needs help.
Many people even advocates and sympathetic policy makers view refugees only from a humanitarian lens. They overlook them as sources of talent and opportunity. Today as a refugee and I will talk about refugees as opportunities, as power to be harnessed.
I Spearheaded non-profits and sincerely worked and still to make Canada a better place. I co-founded organizations like Jumpstart and the Syrian Canadian Foundation. Jumpstart helps hundreds of newcomer refugees from all backgrounds gain meaningful employment, and improve their language skills. As a community leader, I have promoted Canada’s refugee programs in meetings with government representatives from Sweden, Italy and the Middle East. I have contributed to the development of the Global compact on refugees at the formal consultations in Geneva as a member of the Network for refugee Voices. I met and discussed topics with many state members from Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, EU, and others.
All that, yet, the question that still boggles my mind is, why so many people shy away from the conversation about refugee economic contribution. Why shy away when the city of Vancouver told us that about 2500 Syrian refugees will contribute at least $563 million dollars in the next 20 years to Canada, why shy away when tent foundation proved that every $1 invested in refugees earn $2 back in less than 5 years. Why shy away when the department of health and human services in the US issued research showing that refugees gave back $63 billion more than what they took in services in the last 10 years. Why shy away when my organization Jumpstart that was founded, co-managed and run by refugees contributes $7,5 yearly in tax saving and contributions to Canada for every $1 invested in supporting refugees finding meaningful employment. Moreover, why shy away when Tariq Hadad the Syrian refugee started the company peace by chocolate in a Canadian town of less than 5000 people, hired close to 50 local citizens, why shy away when a young Syrian refugee woman Aya Hamoud learnt coding in less than 6 months to start working with one of the most successful Canadian Start-ups at the age of 20, or when my friend James Madhier who is a refugee from south Sudan founded the rainmaker enterprise that employs 9 Canadians, and positively empowers over 1500 people in south Sudan. Why shy away when Mr. Marty Trim from Alberta gave 6 acres of unused land, a lost potential, to two refugee families who turned it into a farm that provides Canadians with fresh local goods and the CRA with fresh tax dollars. They even donated 800 pounds of lettuce to Calgary Food Bank.
These examples can go on and on so you tell me if resettling and welcoming refugees is good for Canada.
The Fact that there will only be two fulltime working Canadians for each retiree tells us that Canada is in great need of immigrants and refugees. Adopting GCM and GCR, co-hosting the global refugee forums to share best practices of inclusion, and partnering with other nations is the right path to pursue.
Economic studies tell us that Canada’s investment in refugees and immigrants is above all, the smart thing to do. We had better constructively criticize and improve our settlement and resettlement efforts to be more efficient, rather than spreading fear to divide this nation that was built on the shoulders of refugees and immigrants.
It is in Canada’s interest to build on the success and the leadership of innovative programs to enable mobility of refugees between countries including private sponsorship, humanitarian admission, and the Economic mobility Pathways Project, a world leading pilot program pioneered by Canada.
Canada would benefit to realize and advocate for refugees to be seen as legitimate contributors and policy makers who can themselves participate in settlement and resettlement efforts, peace building, transitional justice, and reconstruction. Nothing about us should be without us!
Finally I could never think of a better story to leave you with than Omar’s; a 7 year old kid in one of Lebanon’s Camps:
Omar kept jumping up and down yelling, telling the camp supervisor that he is smart, and he can count and write in English from 1 to 100, something he learnt on his own in the camp. Not thinking, the supervisor told Omar to bring a pen and paper and show him. With a sad thoughtful face, Omar told the supervisor to wait then started running from one tent to another. Then Omar ran back to confess that he didn’t have a pen nor paper. While confessing Omar squatted down to the ground, dug his nails and fingers into the mud and started tracing out the numbers. Omar is symbol of 68 million resilient human beings who are refugees and waiting on nations like Canada to see their power, and determination,,, and do something.
Mustafa Alio, is the Co-Founder and Development Director Of Jumpstart Refugee Talent