Editorial: B.C. has a rich history of integrating newcomers

September 17, 2015

By Vancouver Sun |

As it turns out, British Columbians have special reasons to want to play a role in addressing the refugee crisis playing out in Europe.

Of course the woes of the fleeing masses hit home in a heartbreaking way two weeks ago when it was learned that Alan Kurdi, the toddler whose drowned body washed up on a Turkish beach, was the nephew of a Port Coquitlam woman who had been trying to get members of her extended family into Canada.

The connection helped encourage hundreds to attend a recent rally in downtown Vancouver, to show support for the cause of rescuing those fleeing dangers in their home countries.

Although not everyone supports such a goal. Around the same time, an Angus Reid poll revealed only 44 per cent of B.C. respondents believe Canada should welcome people arriving in boats, a smaller percentage than in the rest of Canada.

Nonetheless Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson last week tabled a city council motion, calling on Ottawa, responsible for immigration, to start admitting 20,000 government sponsored refugees annually by 2020.

And Premier Christy Clark announced a $1 million “readiness fund” to help community groups provide settlement services for the refugees.

B.C. was built in large measure by newcomers who left lives behind elsewhere to come to the province. B.C. receives about 44,000 immigrants annually — about 16 per cent of the Canadian intake. Nearly 70 per cent of them are Economic Class immigrants, generally chosen for their skills and education.

According to BC Stats, B.C. accepts between 1,500 and 1,800 refugees a year — less than four per cent of the foreign newcomers arriving here. (Quebec last week pledged to take 3,650 Syrian refugees this year.)

The top immigrant-source countries for B.C. are China, the Philippines, India, South Korea and the United Kingdom. Traditionally, only 10 per cent have come from the Middle East and Africa.

So, from a B.C. perspective, the current crop of migrants would not be typical. The refugees now attempting to get to northern Europe mainly derive from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and may or may not have particular skills or training desired in Canada, or B.C.

That said, they do appear to be individuals desperately desirous of finding a secure place to live. And who can question the guts, initiative and determination of people who literally would walk across entire countries in search of a better life?

It should be recalled, Albert Einstein once was a refugee. So were Adrienne Clarkson and Henry Kissinger.

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