Monday, February 29, 2016

Language and a closed door

A newspaper article (Moncton Times & Transcript January 16) outlining the distribution of 1500 Syrian refugees in NB included the following statement:

" House leader and Beausejour MP Dominic LeBlanc told Brunswick News earlier this week that his government is committed to increasing the number of immigrants in New Brunswick, while respecting the province's linguistic makeup.  
'We don't want to dilute the presence of French-speaking (New) Brunswickers by including a whole series of immigration streams that over time have the effect of diluting it,' the MP said."

I was shocked to read that French communities in NB are not accepting Syrian refugees; the current stream of "dilution" is being directed to predominantly English-speaking areas.  This policy reflects a level of cultural protectionism completely out of character for Acadians who are not and never have been an exclusive club allowing only French members.  Naomi E.S. Griffiths, author of "The Contexts of Acadian History 1686-1784" points out that unions with non-French immigrants were common in early Acadian settlements and these relationships helped to strengthen their society.
"To deal with kinship ties first: family relationships within and among the Acadian communities made a close net of interconnections.  It was a net, not a solid piece of cloth.  Before exile, as afterwards, Acadians showed a considerable ability to absorb newcomers into their community.   ...even in older settled Acadian parishes of Annapolis, Minas and Beaubassin, newcomers accounted for a significant percentage of marriage partners."  

A recent government survey of the Syrian refugees arriving in Canada revealed a few facts that should be taken into consideration in determining suitable settlement locations:

  1.  They are younger than expected, with 55% 14 years of age or less
  2. They have bigger families, with 53% numbering 5-8 members
  3. They have minimal education.  Syrians average 6-9 years, while 95% of those from Jordan have not finished high school.  Many children are a year or two behind their peers in school.  
  4. Adult males are mostly unskilled, with little or no work experience. 
  5. They are generally healthy. 
  6. They speak little French or English, with 67% speaking neither language.  

Clearly the settlement of refugees is not a language issue, or a question of preserving cultural homogeneity, but a humanitarian crisis requiring the provision of safe haven for a displaced group.  It's not a new situation, or an insurmountable challenge.

In the village of Cap-Pele a large number of temporary foreign workers (mostly English-speaking) are employed in the fish processing plants.  The workers are not encouraged to become citizens and settle here, in fact the government grants them a four year work permit in Canada and then they are required to return to their countries of origin: the Philippines, Mexico and Jamaica.  They have to wait another four years before re-applying for work in Canada.

 Last year, a shortage of workers forced one NB processing plant to discard 1360 kilograms of  perfectly good, edible lobster.  The local post office bulletin board is plastered with ads seeking employees, no experience required, for entry level positions paying $11 - $13 per hour with bonuses for extra work.  It's not a prestigious or cushy job, but it might be a starting point for an unskilled refugee seeking a paycheque to support his family.

The government could gradually phase out the temporary foreign worker program and offer the vacant fish processing jobs to incoming Syrian refugees.  Language training in French or English could be part of the employers' incentive package.

If any group should be able to sympathize with the plight of refugees, it is the Acadian population whose ancestors were displaced and relocated due to ethnic and religious persecution.

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