FALL RIVER: Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen launched the 40th anniversary of Canada’s private sponsorship refugee program in small-town Canada, with the Baroud family and members of the Riverlake Syrian Refugee team on hand.
The event was held at St. John’s United Church in Fall River. It was arranged through MP Darrell Samson and the Riverlake Syrian Refugee Project.
Hussen relayed stories of his past and of Canada’s past, celebrating the refugee program. Hussen himself was a 16-year-old Somali refugee, and is now the Minister of Immigration in the Canadian government.
“It’s a special time to come and meet you,” Hussen told the volunteers from the Riverlake Syrian Refugee Project that were on hand. “This is all about you, it’s not about us. It’s about the work you’ve done.”
Hussen talked about a meeting he had with former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who was in power when the Private Sponsorship program was brought in.
“This year we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of this wonderful program,” he said to applause. “Joe Clark got the ball rolling. This Canadian Private Refugee Sponsorship program has transcended time, has transcended changes in government, 40 years and going as strong as before.”
He said he had the chance to experience the Canadian generosity that makes the country one of the best in the world for acceptance of refugees.
“I got to experience that first hand, coming here at the age of 16 without my family,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy experience, but I was helped by my Canadian neighbours; friends; I was helped by employers.
“Joining the high school track team, they became my second family.”
It was those small gestures that helped him settle.
“It made me feel like this is the greatest country in the world,” said Hussen.
He then explained stories he heard during a stop in Halifax of refugees who fled war and have now became very successful, and is giving back to the community.
Hussen said he asked sponsors if they would do it again.
“Their response was absolutely,” said Hussen. “There’s something human about reaching out to help those in need.
“We’re really blessed to be in this country. I don’t think the average Canadian is any more generous than the average American or the average Australian, but knowing that when we see horrific images in war and targeted for persecution, we feel for those people and we want to help.”
He said what the difference is when people see these images.
“The difference is the average Canadian can get up off the couch, find four more Canadians and sponsor a family or an individual,” he said.
Forty years later, other countries are seeing the advantage of having the privately sponsored refugee.
“Many countries are coming to Canada asking us about it,” Hussen said.
After speaking, Hussen shook some hands of the volunteers and the Baroud family.