Dutch Immigration Minister Visits York Organizations

Dutch immigration minister visits York organizations
Fact-finding mission to learn about Canada's immigration policies

Jun. 14, 2006

Dutch immigration minister Rita Verdonk paid a visit to one of the most diverse communities in Toronto to get firsthand accounts of the challenges that Canadian immigrants experience.
It was also an opportunity for the seven community agencies located in the old hydro building at 1652 Keele St. to share some of their success stories on how immigrants have integrated within Canadian society.

Verdonk and her large delegation from the Netherlands were greeted Tuesday by representatives from each of the non-profit organizations, which included the Somali Immigrant Women Association, York Hispanic Centre, Community Action Resource Centre and the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto.

“It's interesting to meet all sorts of people in Canada,” Verdonk said. “I hope to learn a lot.”

The foreign press accompanying the minister noted immigration policies into Holland have become much stricter in recent years. Verdonk, who is running for the leadership of her political party and subsequently in position to become the first female Dutch prime minister, has earned the reputation back home of taking a hard-line approach to immigration by tightening and enforcing rules to curb immigration applications.

She was interested, though, to learn how new immigrants were able to adapt to Canadian culture.

Mario Calla, executive director of COSTI Immigrant Services, one of the visiting settlement agencies at the meeting, answered that Canada practises managed immigration, which means the government allows citizenship primarily to those with a post-secondary education (up to 70 per cent of applicants).

The issue, however, is the lack of services to provide jobs for these immigrants in their related fields, Calla noted. The problem is compounded by a lack of accreditation process in Canada of foreign credentials.

Abukar Moallim backed up that claim, using himself as an example. He was a medical doctor in his home country of Somalia with two university degrees, including a masters in public health obtained in Belgium. In Canada, he is not a doctor, but a health promoter with York Community Services.

The agency representatives seemed to agree the government must provide adequate funding and services for immigrants to succeed, as well as for the country to realize the benefits of having an immigrant workforce.

At the same time, newcomers must also adapt and learn about the Canadian system, said Gilda Gomez, board member with the York Hispanic Centre.

But Hawa Jilao, of the Somali Immigrant Women Association, stressed the importance of still being able to preserve their own ethnic heritage as well as embrace the Canadian culture.

Verdonk asked what would be the motivation for newcomers to learn English if they were adamant about maintaining their own culture in Canada.

“We think it's important that to succeed in the Netherlands, they should learn the Dutch language,” she said of her own country.

“For the children,” replied Jilao, noting the Somalians have successfully integrated into Canada as evidenced by the neighbouring plaza in which Somali entrepreneurs have built numerous stores over the past two decades without government funding, and continue to operate them.

For Jilao, this country is the land of opportunities. “We love Canada,” she said.

Verdonk left the meeting thanking the organizations for their input and noted the similarities in the successes and hardships experienced by immigrants in their respective countries.

“We recognize a lot of your experiences,” she said.