Archive for June 2015
Many newcomers to Prince Edward Island choose to come here because of the immigration programs that are available to them, or because of the unique opportunities that they will have here. Others have had no choice in the matter. Last year, approximately 6%, or 92 of the 1,557 newcomers to Prince Edward Island were refugees.*
Khadar Tawane Hilowle came to Prince Edward Island as a refugee in 2013.
He spent more than 20 years in Hagadera, part of the largest refugee camp in the world, in Dadaab, Kenya. According to United Nations statistics, there were 332,749 Somali refugees living in 77,760 households in Dadaab as of the end of May, 2015.
Khadar lost his entire family when he was a small child at the beginning of the Somali Civil War in 1991. Another Somali family found him wandering alone and took him in. They estimated that he was 9 years old, but he’s not sure.
The loss of his parents and all of his family is not something he can talk about easily, preferring to live in the present rather than the past.
“My life is now,” he explains.
When the family fled Somalia, they took Khadar with them, and were placed in Hagadera. In the 20 years that Khadar lived in the camp, he managed to earn a teacher’s certificate, and became an elementary school teacher in the camp’s school. Eventually, he took on the administrative role of Head Teacher. His wife, Fatumo, is the oldest daughter of his adopted family. Fatumo was as a health care worker in the camp.
Khadar said over the two decades in the camp, he developed a sense of “bufis”, a Somali word the expresses the longing to resettle in a developed country.
“Your hope is that it will become safe to return to your home, but after 20 years, you know it won’t happen, and resettlement is only for the luckiest people…we thought it was like going from Hell to Heaven.”
“That dream was in my mind every day when I woke up in a house made of twisted trees with plastic on top. Most people wanted to be resettled, but it is not their own decision.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) selects likely candidates for resettlement.
“At 8:30 every morning, there was an update from UNHCR on the notice board with the name, time, date, location for resettlement interviews. One day I was at my desk as school principal when I received a phone call from my friend, my name was on the UNHCR notice board for resettlement. I called my wife and gave her the good news.”
“It was a really happy moment, but there were a lot of steps still to happen.”
The couple had four young children by the time they learned that they were being considered for a resettlement program.
“It’s a long process. We were selected on certain criteria, and you can be rejected. After all the screening and profiling you wait to hear if you have been accepted and where you will be sent.”
Some people wait for up to five years to find out where they will be going, or if they will be going anywhere at all.
“Eventually, I got an envelope from an embassy. You never know what is inside. It is called ‘Feedback’. Some people open the envelope and it says, ‘Rejected’.”
He remembers the deep depression that those who were rejected for resettlement would fall into.
Finally, after three years, Khadar and his family learned they would be resettled in Canada.
Khadar and Fatumo found themselves on a journey that would take them more than 10,000 km away from the refugee camp in which they had spent most of their lives, heading for a country about which they knew very little, and to a province about which they knew even less.
The journey from Kenya to Charlottetown was grueling. With four small children in their arms, the couple embarked on a journey that took them from Nairobi to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Toronto, and finally, Toronto to Charlottetown. At each leg of the journey, UNHCR workers met their flight to ensure that they safely made the connecting flight.
By the time the family arrived in Prince Edward Island, they were exhausted. They were met at the airport by a group from the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, who facilitated their resettlement.
Khadar is enrolled in language training at Holland College. Now the couple have five children, Farhiyo Khadar, 7; Fosiyo khaddar, 5; Abdilatif Khadar, 4; Hadis Khadar, 3; and Yasin Khadar, who will be one year old in November. Fatumo was in language training, too, until the arrival of little Yasin.
“This baby is an Islander,” Khadar says, smiling.
“Now the children speak English and my wife doesn’t know what they’re saying,” he laughs, noting that she intends to go back to language training as soon as the baby is old enough.
“She made lots of friends when she was in the program, and she keeps in touch with them,” he adds.
Khadar’s strongest desire is to be able to work in order to provide financial stability for his family. His teaching credentials are not recognized in Canada, so he must retrain if he hopes to find full-time employment. The couple would also like to become financially stable so that they could eventually sponsor their parents, who are still in Hagadera, to come to Canada.
He hopes to take a trades program at Holland College; but he is concerned about providing for his young family and repaying his resettlement loan, so right now, his education is on hold.
Khadar is deeply concerned about the misconceptions refugees have when they are resettled after years of yearning for a better life. He says that, although life on the Island is much better than life in the refugee camp, the challenges are still daunting.
“Don’t have unrealistic expectations,” he warns. “Life is life where ever you are. It is a struggle.”
For Khadar, the realization of his dreams will have to wait a little longer.
Dadaab….a forgotten city in the 21st century. Damien Mc Sweeney, Department of Government, UCC. http://publish.ucc.ie/boolean/2011/00/McSweeney/33/en. Downloaded June 22, 2015
The Guardian. Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, 20 years on – in pictures. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/gallery/2011/mar/24/dadaab-refugee-camps-in-pictures. Downloaded June 22, 2015
PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada Annual Report 2013/2014
For many newcomers, the most remarkable (shocking, in some cases) experience when they move to Prince Edward Island is the weather in winter. For Fei Wang, that wasn’t really an issue.
“I come from Northern China, close to Beijing, so the weather is very similar. But I wasn’t expecting so much snow,” she laughs.
I think all of us were shocked and awed by the 17+ feet of snow we received this year, so her horror is perfectly understandable.
For Fei, 36, the biggest surprise was how friendly the people here are.
“The people are so nice and helpful,” she says.
Fei’s journey to Canada was a journey of transformation. If she had stayed in China, she explains, nothing would have changed. She worked in the Human Resources department of a marketing firm, and would have been expected to continue to work in that capacity for the rest of her life. Instead, she says, she saw the opportunity to change the path of her life by emigrating.
So Fei, her husband Zhi Tao Wu, and their 9-year-old son came to Prince Edward Island about a year and a half ago.
“I followed my heart,” she says.
It was a bold move, but not one that she regrets. Now she is working as a translator for PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada and as a customer service representative for Air Canada. For both of these tasks, the ability to communicate is vital.
Fei says that her training in Holland College’s language training program has helped her develop in her English skills, including a stint at Andrew’s Lodge for on the job training.
“It has made a big difference. If your English is better, you can communicate what you are thinking more clearly. Holland College has been very important to me.”
Aside from the friendliness of Islanders, Fei say the biggest surprises when they arrived here were the lack of pollution and the slower pace.
She said that with the technology available now, she can keep in touch with her friends and family in China through Skype and by email. What she misses the most, she says, is the food.
She offers two pieces of advice to other newcomers:
“Take it easy and don’t rush, and learn English,” she says. “Life here is beautiful.”
Canada’s excellent record on human rights was what attracted Keyvan Ashenaei to this country.
Born in Kuwait to Iranian Bahá’í parents, Keyvan spent most of his life marginalized. He was not permitted to hold a Kuwaiti passport, instead holding one from Iran, where the Bahá’í faced increasing hostility.
After the Iranian revolution in 1979, Bahá’í were stripped of their rights to own property or businesses in Iran, many lost their government jobs, others were imprisoned and executed. As an Iranian citizen in Kuwait, Keyvan attended an Iranian school. Shortly after the revolution, when he was in Grade 11, the principal told Keyvan and the other Bahá’ístudents they were no longer welcome.
Keyvan found himself without an identity. Shunned by Iran, even though Kuwait refused to give him citizenship in the country of his birth, he resolved to work hard and establish a comfortable life there. Eventually, he and his brother ran a photography shop and art studio which boasted many well-known Kuwaitis as clients.
Even though they were not permitted to own property or businesses in their own names, Keyvan still felt that Kuwait was his home.
At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait offered citizenship to those who had remained in the country and been loyal to the government, and for people who had been in the country before 1965. Keyvan and his wife applied, but within only a few months the Kuwaiti parliament voted to limit the offer to Arabs and Muslims.
Keyvan’s concern over the lack of human rights afforded to him and others of his religion deepened, and he and his wife, Farahnaz Rezaei, began to worry about what the future held for their two sons, Mobin and Salman. He heard from friends about the Canadian government’s immigration programs. After four years, the family finally received approval, and prepared to come to Canada.
Leaving the country was heart-wrenching. Selling the business, saying goodbye to their staff and their families, the couple prepared to move to London, Ontario. But just three weeks before they were due to fly, Keyvan’s brother Alhan called from Prince Edward Island. He had purchased P.E.I. Photo Lab, and wanted Keyvan to join him to run it.
Keyvan and Farahnaz discussed it, and decided to change their plans and come to the Island. The family arrived on Canada Day, 2012.
“I can’t express my joy when the officer at the Toronto airport, after checking all the documents, stamped our passports and told us, ‘welcome home’, which removed all the stresses we had before we came,” Keyvan recalls in a video he prepared for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.
Keyvan, Farahnaz and their sons have been in Prince Edward Island for three years now. The adjustment that first year was tough.
“It was a big stress for us,” he said in a recent interview. “It was our first time in Canada, so it was a big challenge, especially for our sons.”
The two boys were 15 and 17 when they arrived in Canada, not the best time for teenagers to leave behind their friends and start a new life so far away; but Keyvan and his wife felt that the human rights living in Canada afforded them, and the educational opportunities that would be available for their sons, made the sacrifice worthwhile.
Now, their oldest son, Mobin, is attending U.P.E.I., and intends to continue his education at Dalhousie University studying engineering. Salman has just completed high school and is looking forward to attending Holland College’s Culinary Institute of Canada in the fall. Farahnaz is working as a Program Officer with the Office of Immigration, Settlement and Population in PEI.
The family now feels that Prince Edward Island is their home.
“The people are kind and helpful, we are part of the Bahá’í community here, our faith community is truly our second home from home and we have many friends,” Keyvan said.
His advice to others moving here?
“Attend language school. As well as learning the English language, you will learn about the culture and the community.”
Keyvan believes that becoming part of the community is crucial. In addition to his Bahá’í community, he and his wife have made many friends through their activities.
He encourages newcomers to contact the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada as soon as they arrive; and, if they are establishing or buying a business, to join the Chamber of Commerce and register with PEI Connectors Program, which offers a great deal of business information for those who are seeking to start business on the Island.
“Learn the culture, show respect, and, if you are honest and you know what you are doing, you will succeed.”
Now, finally, the family feels that they have found a home where they will be able to enjoy the same rights and privileges as others in the community and can build a future with their sons.