Somalia: Report on the Canadian Somali Community Town hall meeting with the Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Transport Minister John Bair

Somalia: Report on the Canadian Somali Community Town hall meeting with the Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Transport Minister John Baird

Saturday 3 April 2010 SMC
Heesta Somaliweyn

The Canadian Somali Congress recently hosted a community town hall meeting in Ottawa in order to discuss issues of importance to the Canadian Somali community with the Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Transport Minister John Baird. The main issues that were brought up included immigration issues as well as problems that are constantly faced by Canadian Somalis at borders and airports. The event also provided the community with an opportunity to hear from Minister John Baird on his recent trip to Ethiopia that was undertaken by him to try and secure the freedom of Canadian Somali Bashir Makhtal.

For the benefit of those community members that couldn’t attend this important event, here are the main points that were raised by the community and the two ministers in the meeting:

Opening remarks:

Transport minister John Baird spoke to the community about his ongoing efforts to secure the freedom of Canadian Somali Bashir Makhtal from illegal Ethiopian detention. The Minister told the community that one of the results of his recent trip to Ethiopia is that he is now working to meet certain requirements that the Ethiopian government has put in place before they agree to finally release Bashir. He concluded his remarks on this subject by promising that he will continue to work hard on this case until Bashir Makhtal comes home.

Immigration minister Kenney spoke at length about Government of Canada’s engagement with the Somali community here as well as with the nation of Somalia. He spoke about the fact that it was the government of Brian Mulroney that opened the doors to thousands of Somali refugees as they made a new home in Canada in the late 80s and early 90s. The minister also hailed the strong leadership shown by Ahmed Hussen of the Canadian Somali Congress on the issue of the deaths of Canadian Somalis in Alberta and the integration of young members of the community into the mainstream.

Questions and Answers:

Issue of bringing a large number of Somali refugees to Canada:

There were numerous questions from the audience that asked the immigration minister whether the Canadian government is willing to bring hundreds or even thousands of Somali refugees that are living in refugee camps around the world. For example, Ahmed Hussen pointed out that the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is now the largest camp in the world and has families there that have been living in it for two decades. Minister Kenney in principle said that he is willing to bring a large number of Somali refugees to Canada if certain conditions are met. He said that if the community through an organization like the Canadian Somali Congress reached an agreement with the Government of Canada in terms of contributing to some of the settlement costs of the refugees, he would be willing to work with the community to bring a large number of Somali refugees to Canada. He urged the Canadian Somali Congress to follow up on this issue by talking to the Vietnamese community and learn about how they successfully brought thousands of Vietnamese refugees to Canada.

Problems encountered by Canadian Somalis at borders and airports:

Many people at the event asked the two ministers questions regarding difficulties experienced by Canadian Somalis at the US border and at airports. Transport minister John Baird answered this question by stating categorically that Canada does not engage in racial profiling. He told the community that if they have documented proof of cases where they have been racially profiled then the community should bring these cases forward so that those officials who engage in racial profiling can be removed from those positions. The minister also noted that there are now many Canadian Somalis who work at the Ottawa airport.

Immigration backlogs and delays in sponsorships faced by Canadian Somalis:

There were some questions that dealt with the issue of immigration backlog and delays faced by Canadian Somalis in spousal and family reunification sponsorships. Immigration minister Jason Kenney answered this question by speaking about the enormous backlog faced by Canadians and foreign nationals from all parts of the world and that this was not a problem that is peculiar to the Somali community. He spoke about the fact that Canada is the second-most desired destination of immigrants around the world. He added that he would be willing to work with the community through the Canadian Somali Congress in order to look at ways to improve services and speed processes at Canadian diplomatic missions that are used by Somali refugees and by Canadian Somalis when they travel abroad. The minister said that he is willing to consider hiring more staff if that is what is needed to solve this problem facing the community. As an example, the minister revealed that he will soon undertake a trip to Nairobi, Kenya in order to see for himself whether there are ways to improve consular services at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi.

The National President of the Canadian Somali Congress, Ahmed Hussen, concluded the meeting by thanking the two ministers for taking time off their busy schedule to meet the community on a Sunday afternoon. He spoke about the challenges facing the community but also pointed out the success and dynamism of the Canadian Somalis. For example, he pointed out that the entrepreneurial spirit of our community has resulted in the revitalization of Alberta avenue, an area of Edmonton that was previously known for crime and destitution. Ahmed also spoke about the fact that the vast majority of the Canadian Somali community are no longer immigrants and that most of them no longer need immigrant settlement services. What they need is for the Government of Canada to work with the community in order to make sure Canadian Somali youth who are the majority of the community, get access to adequate jobs and professions. In short, the Canadian Somali community wants to integrate quickly so as to enjoy the fruits of the mainstream.

For further details contact:
Canadian Somali Congress
Somaliweyn Media Center

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