Jump to Main Content
Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

Learning for Change: The role of education in the refugee crisis in Canada

By Vesna Bajic

April 1, 2016

Interested in active resistance and democracy building? The European refugee crisis is at Canada’s doorstep, and education during the ongoing crisis is key. Join us at OISE on April 8, for the 2016 CASAE Regional Conference: Learning in Times of Struggle, and UofT Teach-in Event: Refugee Crisis 2016 and Beyond.  

The changes necessary to eliminate discrimination, austerity and racism, start with opportunities for continued learning and adult education. OISE Professor Shahrzad Mojab is one of the organizers of the Conference. She is internationally known for her work on the impact of war, displacement and violence on women. Professor Mojab’s research focuses on diasporic communities in Canada and Europe and the conflict zones of the Middle East. She recently sat down with Vesna Bajic for an interview. 

One-on-one with Shahzrad Mojab

More than a million migrants and refugees have arrived to Europe in the past 15 months,  and are starting to arrive to Canada. The governments cannot agree on how to share the responsibility and settle them, while ordinary citizens face the changing world around them: what do we learn in a situation like this?

Change is already happening and is ongoing regardless if we perceive it as change. People are learning things about the world, about their neighbors, about nations and 'national characters,' about 'the West,' about racism, xenophobia, violence, depravity, inhumanity. This creates change. Change is not always for the better; racism, Islamophobia, violence is the reality here and perpetuation of it is a possibility, if not a probability.

Trying to understand how people make sense of these experiences and disrupt these ideological practices is part of this project. The war and violence in the Middle East is not separated from the current historical and socio-political situation globally including Canada. Therefore, learning for change is possible if we consider change as a move towards a new vision and understanding of human relations to each other and to the earth.


What can people in Canada do to help Syrians?

We are experiencing a global refugee crisis, extended beyond Syria, and the current situation has a long history, embedded in decades-long colonialism, militarism, and occupation.

Thus, the first thing we can do is educate ourselves. Confront racism. Education is vital for mutual cooperation and understanding. If we bring people here, shelter them, cloth them, feed them, but subject them to the banal violence of a racist society in which they experience discrimination, distrust, and hatred in education, jobs, housing, health care, policing, and so on, what social condition have we subjected them to? What kind of life have we created?


What is the refugee situation in the Greater Toronto Area?

There are a large number of refugees in Toronto, but there is also a large number of precarious migrants and undocumented people; there is a backlog of thousands (estimates of 16,000) refugee cases in Canada, with about 65% in Toronto - many of these are "legacy" cases, and the rest are backlogged cases under the new system. Refugees continue to face marginalization and exclusion on multiple fronts: education, employment, housing, and health. Syrian refugees in the GTA are staying in hotels in temporary and precarious situations, mostly due to the housing crisis in Toronto.


What are some of the critical issues for recently arrived refugees?

In the GTA, Syrian refugees are struggling with the basic and most pressing issues of settlement. Access to affordable housing is critical as are food prices, especially for large families with 5 to 8 children. Also from a practical point of view, there are always difficulties with navigating complicated settlement processes, especially due to language barriers, a lack of available interpreters, or low literacy levels. The existence of anti-refugee sentiments, Islamophobia, racism and discrimination also factor in as potential issues.

In general, it is important to note that the anxiety and difficulties associated with such a transition give a special importance to the availability of mental health support and trauma-informed counseling.

How should Canadian resettlement practices change to make the lives of vulnerable groups better?

Resettlement practices are oftentimes quite bureaucratic and require a large amount of paperwork. They are also in many ways inflexible, and need to be catered to situational nuances. They should address long processing delays of refugee applications, improve family reunification processes and long waits, and if possible, eliminate the burden of transportation loans.

Changes should address barriers to affordable housing and healthcare, as well as access to jobs and education. Furthermore, it is critical to apply the lessons learned from the resettlement of the 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada to all refugees from different regions of the world.

The 2016 CASAE Regional Conference at OISE is sponsored by the Canadian Association of Studies in Adult Education, Adult Education and Community Development Program OISE/UT, and Community Worker Program, George Brown College.

Join researchers, educators, and activists on April 8, 2016 at OISE to discuss today’s pressing refugee settlement issues and beyond. This event is free and open to public.