‘We’re go­ing to be pos­i­tive, we’re go­ing to be open’

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MICHAEL TUTTON

HAL­I­FAX — Jelele Etefa and her hus­band Bona Dhina sang the Cana­dian an­them, waved plas­tic flags and re­peated a cit­i­zen­ship oath at a Hal­i­fax wa­ter­front mu­seum Mon­day.

It was the end of a long trek for the Ethiopian refugees, who were aware of the mo­ment’s par­tic­u­lar poignancy.

Dhina said he’d heard of the des­per­ate mid-winter bor­der cross­ings by Africans seek­ing refugee sta­tus in south­ern Man­i­toba, as U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pushes to bring in an im­mi­gra­tion ban tar­get­ing seven ma­jor­ity Mus­lim coun­tries.

“They are clos­ing a lot of coun­tries ... It is very dif­fi­cult for them. If they are go­ing back to their orig­i­nal coun­try, it will be dan­ger­ous for them. They will be jailed or killed. It’s very bad,” said Dhina.

Dhina gained Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship a year ago, and on Mon­day brought his three-year-old daugh­ter Sim­boo and seven-year-old son Sur­raa to wit­ness their mother’s rite of pas­sage at the Hal­i­fax gath­er­ing of 33 peo­ple from 16 na­tions who were be­com­ing Cana­di­ans.

Etefa’s jour­ney started in 2005 with a foot trek across arid south­ern Ethiopia and a sti­fling ride in the back of a truck filled with cat­tle to reach Nairobi. Dhina had fled the coun­try in 2001 af­ter ex­press­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­sent.

“They were jail­ing our peo­ple, killing our peo­ple,” he said, re­fer­ring to his Oromo eth­nic­ity. Af­ter years in and out of a refugee camp in Kenya, he and his wife were ac­cepted through the United Na­tions refugee pro­gram for a place­ment in Nova Sco­tia in 2011.

Canada has seen a steady in­crease in refugee and pro­tected per­son fig­ures, climb­ing from 24,000 in 2014 to last year’s to­tals of al­most 47,000, while to­tal im­mi­gra­tion was about 243,000 new­com­ers last year, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada fig­ures.

While a poll re­leased Mon­day by the Angus Reid in­sti­tute says the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has ma­jor­ity ap­proval for its refugee pol­icy, 41 per cent of re­spon­dents said the coun­try is tak­ing in too many asy­lum seek­ers. About 47 per cent of re­spon­dents said Canada is ac­cept­ing the cor­rect num­ber of refugees, and 11 per cent of the 1,508 adults sur­veyed said the coun­try should in­crease the num­ber of refugees.

“I’m very mind­ful of the broader po­lit­i­cal and so­cial con­text we’re in now,” Fran­coise Baylis, a bioethi­cist who gave the ad­dress dur­ing Mon­day’s cer­e­mony, said. “I want to fol­low our prime min­is­ter in terms of ... we’re go­ing to be pos­i­tive, we’re go­ing to be open, we’re go­ing to be wel­com­ing and we’re go­ing to give out a very clear mes­sage that if you want strength you get it through di­ver­sity.


Sim­boo, 3, runs into the arms of her mother, Jelele Etefa, as they pose for a group photo fol­low­ing a Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­mony at the Mar­itime Mu­seum of the Atlantic in Hal­i­fax, Mon­day.

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