Refugees

How Will I Compete for Jobs with over 25,000 Refugees?

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There is a horrible image burned into the minds of many Canadians. Refugees arriving from all over the middle east, getting off their flights into Canada and cutting to the front of the line for social assistant and job placements.

It is understandable why such an image has caused so much displeasure towards bringing new refugees into Canada, and left some Canadians with questions like:

 

How will I Compete for Jobs with over 25,000 refugees?
What about our own Canadian Citizens in Need of Support?
Why should I be responsible for this crisis?

 

These questions, left unanswered, have caused a chasm of separation between those who are in favor of, and those who are against the supporting of new refugees in Canada. Let’s seek to answer these questions truthfully.

How Will I Compete for Jobs with over 25,000 Refugees?

Unemployment Cartoon

As a young job seeker myself, I’ll admit that it is hard enough to find a job, let alone one that I feel passionate about dedicating my valuable time to. I’m not thrilled by the idea of adding to this competition, and I can’t help but to feel a little degraded by the thought that people care more about employing refugees than they do employing people like me.

“What about me? Am I not equally important? I am already fluent in english, my skills are already accredited, and I am already a Canadian Citizen. I want to help refugees but I need to work too.”

I cannot deny that I, like many Canadians, have experienced these kinds of thoughts. However selfish they may be, they seemed to hold some merit. Seeking to address these questions and better understand the situation, I attended the recent Peterborough Symposium for refugees.

Symposium

The 400+ person symposium saw several guest speakers before dividing into a dozen or so breakout groups to talk about topics like health care, culture, and the group that I selected; employment. There were about 20 of us discussing everything to do with the employment of refugees. I expected it to be mostly about finding jobs for refugees, but I was pleasantly surprised.

“I would like to offer employment to a few refugees at our family farm.” One of the members of our group chimed in.

“Actually, we can’t really do that.” said Nic Cunningham, the employment leader of the New Canadians Center who was volunteering his time for the event.

“We cannot offer any employment advantages to newcomers that are not also offered to Canadian citizens. It would be unfair to provide them with jobs when there are so many other Canadians seeking employment. What we can do is post your employment needs on our community job board and have any job seekers contact you. We can also introduce newcomers to the resources the government currently provides for anyone seeking employment. Apart from that, we cannot offer much else without being unfair.”

I was quite surprised by this, and began thinking of an entrepreneurial solution to finding employment for refugees that was fair to all Canadians. As I looked across the room, I caught the gaze of MP Maryam Monsef, who had shared her incredibly inspiring story of coming to Canada as a refugee at the age of 11. Her mother had fled Afghanistan by donkey, camel, and airplane after Maryam’s father and uncle had disappeared due to political conflicts.

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As I thought of Maryam’s journey, a new thought had come to my mind.

What if we didn’t need to compete with refugees for jobs. What if refugees could create jobs.

In an instant, this absurd thought had completely changed what I thought was possible for Canada’s goals to aid in this refugee crisis. Previously, I had seen this refugee crisis as a necessary burden that we were willing to help with because we are a compassionate nation. Now I began to think of this crisis as something different altogether. Not a burden, but an opportunity.

I began doing some research, and quickly found out that I was onto something huge. As it turned out, history has shown that the refugees who have come to Canada in the past spurred the economy in some pretty incredible ways.

Let’s take the Vietnamese “boat people” for example.

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“Casting refugees as freeloaders may be politically expedient but it lacks a basis in fact. Between 1979 and 1981, . Within a decade, 86% of those former refugees were working, healthy and spoke English with some proficiency, achieving the basic criteria for success set out by academic Morton Beiser in his landmark  of their integration into Canadian society. They were less likely to use social services and more likely to have jobs than the average Canadian. One in five was self-employed. They weren’t a drain on the taxpayer—they were taxpayers.” –

One in five had started their own business. They were actually a cultural and economic improvement to the country… Could the same be possible for Syrian Refugees?

After speaking with Michael Vanderherberg, a member of the New Canadians Center who flew himself to Jordan during the holidays to experience the refugee camps first hand, I began to think so.

“Syrians are said to be creative entrepreneurs, very resilient, and focused on the tomorrow, both where they will be in the world, and the expansion of the micro-enterprise they are building within a refugee camp… This innovation matches the spirit of the Syrian people, where they have built what has become known as Champs-Élysées, a long marketplace of vegetable vendors, bicycle repair stands, clothing production and repair shops, falafel kiosks, and even a place where you can buy canaries.”

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What he was referring to, was literally a small city built out of a refugee camp, where Syrians had started their own businesses instead of waiting helplessly in desperation.

“Syrian people are by nature traders and merchants. They have always been on the crossroads, so they are very good at starting businesses,” says Egyptian Ahmed Alfi, a venture capital investor and the founder of the Greek Campus, Cairo’s booming hub for start-ups and tech companies located off the iconic Tahrir square.

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“The competitive advantage of any refugee is their will to work incredibly hard because [they have] no safety net,” he says. “And that’s what investors look for in an entrepreneur. We can teach them anything, except for desire.” – Egyptian Ahmed Alfi, a venture capital investor and the founder of the Greek Campus.

We already know that the government is bringing in at least 25,000 refugees this year. What if, instead of arguing about whether this is the right move, we worked together to help connect them with the same resources that we have access to, and empower those who want to work hard to do so.

So what can we do to turn the financial burden of aiding refugees into the most profitable investment Canada has ever made?

For this I spoke with Peter Miller, former professor at Seneca College, MBA, Serial Entrepreneur and Business Mentor. I saw him courageously stand in front of the hundreds of people at the Markham refugee summit and share his first hand experience of the creative entrepreneurship found in refugees. Peter’s experience has shown him that there is an immense potential for new refugees to use the resources available to all Canadians to create powerful businesses that could employ both existing Canadians and new refugees.

The more I am learning about what resources are available for people across Canada, the more I am inspired to help bring these resources to light through The Canadian Project. I made a mental note after speaking with Peter to pick his brain about how an Ambassador Program with the Canadian Project could empower youth who are building grassroots social enterprises.

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What if Abdul Fattah Jandali, , had not left Syria. What if Robert Herjavec had never come to Canada? And  in Vancouver? There is truly no shortage of immigrant, migrant, or refugee success stories. But why is this?

Well to be fair, it’s not just immigrants or refugees, but anyone who undergoes great struggle. It’s human nature that when we are faced with extreme difficulty, we will fight to survive. Steven Hawking is a perfect example of this. In the case of refugees however, having lost their homes, money, or family, they will strive to regain these things in an even greater capacity. So now I ask you…

 

How do we turn a massive financial burden into Canada’s greatest investment?

How can we empower refugees to create jobs for the Canadians who are unemployed?

What would Canada look like in 25 years, having helped thousands of refugees to start new prosperous lives in this beautiful place we call home?

Rich Cosh

Author, Entrepreneur, and Global Adventurer. Rich Cosh is the founder of The Canadian Project, and is dedicated to empowering Canadian social entrepreneurs in tackling Canada's largest social and cultural issues head on.

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