Welcoming the world to Hamilton
Dutch-born mayor is proud we welcome refugees and immigrants
Hess Street Elementary School has students from more than 30 countries, speaking more than 35 different languages.
Born in Amsterdam and immigrating to Canada with my family as an eightyear-old, speaking not a word of English, I understand the newcomer experience. As an immigrant family in the 1960s, I grew up in social housing and poverty in the McQuesten neighbourhood of Hamilton.
Recent events have led some to question the value of immigration. Others have openly speculated as to why we have welcomed refugees to our country and our community.
Canada is a country of immigrants, of newcomers. They contribute immeasurably to the rich diversity which makes this country the envy of the world; bilingual, multicultural and a safe haven for refugees and newcomers from around the globe.
According to StatsCan, one out of five people in Canada is born outside the country. With some nearly seven million immigrants, foreign-born Canadians represent just over 20 per cent of Canada’s population. Further, they tell us there are more than 200 self-reported ethnic groups in Canada.
Hamilton is the third-largest city in Ontario and the tenth-largest city in Canada with almost 25 per cent of its residents born outside of Canada. Hamilton has been ranked the thirdmost diverse urbanized area in Canada. There are more than 5,000 international students in the city adding to the diversity of our local campuses. Hamilton continues to be a significant secondary destination for immigrants.
The Government of Canada reports resettlement of nearly 40,000 Syrian newcomers in more than 350 communities across the country between No- vember 2015 and January 2017. Ontario received nearly 17,000, or 42 per cent, of the national total, out of which 1,491, or 4 per cent of the national total, have since called Hamilton home.
The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Syrian Newcomers and its working groups continue to successfully collaborate to resettle and integrate newcomers in Hamilton. The progress of the working groups and the advisory committee to date has demonstrated the importance of strategic collaboration, community mobilization, and information sharing to support the short-term and long-term needs of all newcomers. Key issues, challenges and opportunities continue to be jointly discussed and addressed as we continue to move forward together.
This work has not been without its challenges. We are grateful to all of the agencies and organizations that are in engaged in settlement services and in serving our newcomers. We appreciate the generosity of Hamiltonians across the city that have as groups, f amilies, congregations and neighbourhoods rallied behind the resettlement efforts and who have joined in sponsoring and supporting our newcomers.
Here in our city the Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council (HIPC) has as its vision that Hamilton welcomes newcomers, celebrates diversity and is a place for everyone to call home. HIPC supports the development of local partnerships and community-based planning around the needs of immigrants. First launched in 1999, HIPC brings together local government, community organizations, immigrant-serving agencies, language training bodies, business networks, educational institutions, media, employers, and the francophone community. Today HIPC is comprised of community leaders representing organizations that provide services to, or have an interest in welcoming, newcomers to the city.
Hamilton is committed to being the best place to raise a child and age successfully. The recent influx of nearly 1,500 Syrian refugees included more than 500 children.
Hess Street Elementary School has students from more than 30 countries, speaking more than 35 different languages. More than 75 per cent of the children speak something other than English as a first language. At nearby Sir John A. Macdonald H.S. the student body represents some 80 countries speaking more than 50 languages.
Hamilton has long welcomed waves of refugees, answering the call to offer refuge to those seeking safety and a new life in Canada.
When events in Vietnam created an exodus and precipitated the “Vietnamese Boat People” crisis of the 1970s, Hamiltonians rallied to welcome them. Hundreds of individuals and families stepped forward to sponsor families as they settled in the city.
As the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide surfaced in the 1970s, Canada and Hamilton opened their doors once again to extend welcome to hundreds of Cambodians.
Hundreds of refugees arrived i n Hamilton from Central and South America during the 1980s seeking safety.
In response to the Kosovo crisis, Canada received more than 5,500 Albanian Kosovar refugees in 1999. Many found safety here as Hamiltonians once again rallied to the call for help.
In 2003 we began to receive Somali refugees as the situation deteriorated in Somalia. Approximately 380 Somali refugees found their way to Hamilton.
Still others have arrived from Myanmar, East Timor, Ethiopia, Sudan — sadly the list goes on — in search of a new life in Hamilton.
Hamilton will continue to offer a refuge and a home to all those who seek safety and freedom from violence, persecution and discrimination. Hamilton remains a home in which they can fulfil their dreams and aspirations; a place to raise a family. Each generation of newcomers is woven into the intricate and diverse fabric of our community. They are Hamilton.
My recent nomination as a World Mayor in 2016 represents far more than a personal honour — rather, it’s a richly deserved recognition of the generosity of all Hamiltonians and a tribute to the indomitable spirit of our newcomer community. Hamilton is for everyone.