The spirit of immigration proves a resilient force in Canada

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Mokhtar Vakil, 11, second from right, lives with his family in a refugee camp in the city of Les Saisies

“I only ever found you here, but I’ll never leave now,” a young Afghan man with a big smile told me in a refugee camp in the Canadian province of Quebec.

He said this at the 19th annual Grafton Refugee Talent Show last weekend. The school-set production was made up of Syrian and Afghan singers, dancers and actors and directed by Canadian singers Jill Whelan and Shannon Lecumberger, who were not refugees themselves.

“It’s very sad to say they are refugees,” 15-year-old Mokhtar Vakil told me. “It is special for us because they are coming here. We were born here and have been here our whole lives. We are only looking at coming to Canada.”

The show performed in a tent for 200 people was organised to help refugees, and the immigrants, find work after being resettled in Canada. It was one of the many events that took place over the weekend that encouraged both refugees and immigrants to embrace diversity and to create opportunities in Canada.

Over the past two years, more than 50,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada. Most of them are now working in places across the country, including the commercial farming region in central Quebec.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The show was designed to help newcomers make connections with professionals who can help them

With the risk of anti-immigration feeling growing, countries like Canada that give refugees safe haven are increasingly showing signs of intolerance.

Vietnamese fishermen, who were taken in by Britain and Europe during the Vietnam War, went on hunger strike in London in 2014 to protest against the banning of non-white Vietnamese on the job market.

Then, last month, the French far-right party, the National Front, proposed a law in France that would ban Muslim women from wearing veils in public.

Twenty-two Syrian refugees stood up against the ban at the gala. Amaad Ashaib, a university student and a civil servant, spoke at the show saying the proposed ban violated the right to religious freedom.

“I’m studying in Syria to get a scholarship. In my country, I have to wear the scarf because of the war. Now, I don’t wear it and I’m banned from working because I don’t.”

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Lakeisha Zawawi, 18, performed a rap song in the show

At the talent show in Quebec, the three Syrian students who won an award sat on a stage and told the audience how much their teachers, friends and family back home taught them to be proud of themselves.

The students were so emotionally moved, they spoke through their tears, and some could not stop crying.

“They are in all kinds of different colours, living in different communities, but they are all very proud of themselves,” Jill Whelan said.

Now, hundreds of Syrian refugees live in Canada and they sing like this to all those coming over too.

For it seems that whatever progress countries like Canada try to make in terms of integration can only be as good as their acceptance of the newcomers.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The talent show was organised to help new immigrants settle in a Canadian city

“I don’t have any problem because people have the right to practice their religion,” Lakeisha Zawawi, the rapper who performed on stage, told me. “If they want to wear a veil, they can wear a veil. Even if you dress like a suicide bomber, it doesn’t mean you are a suicide bomber.”

A host of other universities are showcasing talent in the Canadian city of Quebec to encourage newcomers to take an interest in their careers.

“The world is changing and we see this all around us on our field trips and classes,” Yair Abudass, a sociology student at Quebec’s Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM), told me.

“On campus, a lot of students are with these refugees because they think they will find a good job. I am excited to see what they do.”

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The talent show put forward the idea that is less xenophobic than the recent French far-right proposal banning the wearing of head coverings in public

That is part of the difference in Quebec these days. It has been a leader in accepting refugees, and the ability to absorb them not only shows off the country

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