Canadians learning Arabic to welcome Syrian refugees

CBC News reports: Many Syrian refugees have already arrived and more are coming to the Waterloo Region [in Southern Ontario], leading some to wonder about what we can do to make these people feel at home in a new country.

In Waterloo Region, a crash course in conversational Arabic is available to residents and several have leaped at the opportunity to learn new language while becoming more useful to those arriving. ​The workshop is meant to teach private refugee sponsors and volunteers.

An organization known as Bring Back Hope, which was founded by Iman Arab, is working in association with Muslim Social Services to put together the four-hour course. The sessions are facilitated by Dr. Amir Al-Azraki, who teaches Arabic at the University of Waterloo and is also a lecturer and playwright.

Leanne Brown works with Carizon Family and Community Services as a school mental health co-ordinator and told CBC’s Melanie Ferrier that the opportunity to help others makes her feel really good.

“I’m here to learn Arabic because of the new refugees coming into our city and just to know how to make them feel welcome,” Brown said. “It’s pretty easy, actually. And I guess for me, learning a new language is very exciting.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. accepted 2,500 Syrian refugees over four years while Canada took in more in just two months

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The New York Times reports: Among the Obamas’ guests at the State of the Union address on Tuesday was Refaai Hamo, a middle-aged widower with sunken eyes, a side-swept mop of silver hair and a harrowing account of losing his wife and his daughter in an air raid over his home in Syria.

His presence in the gallery was meant to send a signal to the world that the United States — or at least this administration, in its last year in the White House — believes that people like Mr. Hamo deserve a chance to restart their lives in this country.

“The world respects us not just for our arsenal,” President Obama said in his address. “It respects us for our diversity and our openness.”

The gesture raised an obvious question: Has the United States lived up to its idea of itself as a haven for those fleeing war and persecution?

The numbers offer a partial answer, and they reflect the acute dilemmas that confront countries worldwide amid a historic global crisis.

The United Nations says that an estimated 20 million people around the world, half of them children, have fled their home countries because of conflict or persecution. The war in Syria is now the single largest source of new refugees, casting about 4.4 million Syrians out of their country since the conflict began nearly five years ago.

But unlike in 1951 — when the international refugee convention was forged in the aftermath of World War II, requiring countries to offer protection to those scattered by war and persecution — the political calculus for world leaders has sharply shifted. The costs of taking in refugees have grown and the payoffs, many feel, have diminished.

First, the numbers.

The United States has taken in around 2,500 Syrian refugees since 2012, shortly after the war began.

Canada took in more than that in the last two months of 2015 alone.

Brazil has offered what it calls “humanitarian visas” to three times as many Syrian refugees as the United States has accepted — 7,380 at last count by the United Nations refugee agency.

Switzerland has issued 4,700 special-category visas for Syrians who have family in the country. And Australia, which has come under international criticism for turning away boats of potential refugees from South and Southeast Asia, has said it will take 12,000 from Syria and Iraq.

Germany is in a category of its own, with Syrians making up the largest single group (428,500) of the 1.1 million people who were registered as refugees and asylum seekers there in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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To the newcomers from Syria: Welcome to Canada

An editorial in the Toronto Star says: Welcome to Canada.

Ahlan wa sahlan.

You’re with family now.

And your presence among us makes our Christmas season of peace and joy just that much brighter.

The people of Toronto are honoured to greet the very first group of 25,000 Syrians who will be arriving in this country in the next few months, and who have chosen to make a new life here. It’s been a long trek, but you are no longer refugees. Your days of being strangers in a strange land are over.

You are permanent residents of Canada now, with all the rights and protections and possibilities that confers.

You’ll find the place a little bigger than Damascus or Aleppo, and a whole lot chillier. But friendly for all that. We’re a city that cherishes its diversity; it’s our strength. Canadians have been watching your country being torn apart, and know that you’ve been through a terrifying, heartbreaking nightmare. But that is behind you now. And we’re eager to help you get a fresh start. [Continue reading…]

Not only is Canada showing an example that America should follow, but their choice surely poses a problem for Donald Trump and his Islamophobic supporters. If they insist Syrian refugees pose a threat and they also want a wall built along the southern border to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico, wouldn’t it also make sense (from their point of view) to have a wall between the U.S. and Canada along a border that’s currently so easy to cross?

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Canada to turn away single men as part of Syrian refugee resettlement plan

AFP reports: Canada will accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away.

Since the Paris attacks launched by Syria-linked jihadis, a plan by the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to fast-track the intake of 25,000 refugees by year’s end has faced growing criticism in Canada.

Details of the plan will be announced Tuesday but Canada’s ambassador to Jordan confirmed that refugees from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey will be flown to Canada from Jordan starting 1 December. [Continue reading…]

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Video: The civilian toll from airstrikes against ISIS

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Canada to end airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, new prime minister Trudeau says

The Guardian reports: Canadian Liberal prime minister designate Justin Trudeau has confirmed that Canada will withdraw its fighter jets from the US-led mission against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In his first news conference following the sweeping majority Liberal victory in Canada’s federal election, the visibly fatigued leader said he had spoken with US president Barack Obama in a phone call during which he discussed his intention to pull Canada’s fighter jets out of the anti-Isis campaign.

“I committed that we would continue to engage in a responsible way that understands how important Canada’s role is to play in the fight against Isil, but he understands the commitments I’ve made about ending the combat mission,” Trudeau said. [Continue reading…]

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Tweets on Justin Trudeau — elected Canadian prime minister

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Harper’s campaign is embracing Islamophobia to make Canada’s election a referendum on the niqab

Rafia Zakaria writes: On Oct. 9, Zunaira Ishaq, an immigrant from Pakistan, finally took her citizenship oath and became a Canadian. Her refusal to take the oath without niqab, or a face veil, has been a subject of legal battle between Canada’s courts and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

This controversy has become a backdrop for Canada’s parliamentary elections today. Having lost legal challenges that would have prevented Ishaq from taking the oath while veiled, Harper’s Conservative Party is now vowing to pursue a niqab ban during citizenship ceremonies and to consider a wider ban for all public employees if re-elected. His opponents, the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau and the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair, have dismissed the niqab issue as a distraction and oppose such bans.

Harper’s fear-mongering reflects Canada’s growing distance from the “respect for multiculturalism” and “freedom of religion” enshrined in its own Charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms. A Conservative victory in today’s polls would express an endorsement of Islamophobia and a xenophobic fear of the immigrant “other.” It will also show that the country’s commitment to women’s right to choose does not extend to Muslims who wear the face veil. [Continue reading…]

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Indigenous Canadians take leading role in battle against tar sands pipeline

The Guardian reports: Chief Na’Moks stood in the dark of a small smokehouse nestled in the Coast range of British Columbia. Hanging above him were nearly a thousand fish which glinted over the fire below.

“For us, it’s one of the most highly prized commodities that we have,” he said, pulling one of the glistening candlefish off the rack. “People don’t get why we want to keep what we have. We don’t want anything from anyone. We just want to keep what we have.”

Not so long ago, the chief’s ancestors traded fish oil along the grease trails up and down the coast of British Columbia. Today, however, Chief Na’Moks and many other First Nations leaders are at the forefront of a struggle against a very different kind of oil business: Canada’s largest proposed tar sands pipeline, the Northern Gateway.

It is the country’s environmental battle of the decade, uniting a wide variety of citizens’ groups against the billions of dollars of investment by oil companies and millions in secret funding from the government. First proposed in 2004, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was planned for a 731-mile (1,177km) stretch from the center of Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. [Continue reading…]

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A broken family: The father and relatives of the drowned Syrian toddler

The Washington Post reports: Somewhere between Turkey and Greece, the boat carrying Abdullah Kurdi and his family was filling with water. They wore life vests, and Kurdi was holding his wife’s hands, he later recalled. His children, 3-year-old Aylan and 5-year-old Galip, were seated nearby.

As the small boat began to sink, passengers panicked.

“My children slipped from my hands,” Abdullah told Turkey’s Dogan News Agency on Thursday. “We tried to hold on to the boat, but it deflated rapidly. Everyone was screaming. I could not hear the voices of my children and my wife.”

Abdullah swam to a beach on the Turkish coast, following the lights on the shore, he said. “I looked for my wife and children on the beach but couldn’t find them.”

By now, the world knows that his two sons and wife drowned, along with nine other migrants. A photograph of Aylan’s tiny body washed up on a beach has gone viral, shocking the world and starkly illustrating the plight of those caught in the conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. These concurrent crises have produced the largest displacement of people since World War II. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: While the photograph of a 3-year-old Syrian boy’s body quickly focused the world’s attention on the migrant crisis in the Middle East and Africa, it has taken on a particular resonance in Canada with the discovery that the boy’s family had been unable to obtain immigration visas.

The death of the boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned with his brother and mother off the coast of Turkey, has also become an emotional issue in the Canadian election.

Even before the plight of the Kurdi family flashed across social media, opposition politicians, along with advocacy and religious groups, had strongly criticized the refugee policies of Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper’s Conservative government.

In January, the government promised that it would accept 10,000 refugees from Syria over three years. But over the next several months, immigration officials and Chris Alexander, the citizenship and immigration minister, repeatedly declined to disclose how [many] people had been admitted. [Continue reading…]

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Scientists call for halt to Canadian oil sands expansion

Climate Central reports: The controversial proposed Keystone XL Pipeline put Canada’s vast carbon-laden tar sands on the map for many Americans, with its builders promising that it would carry 800,000 barrels of petroleum per day from Alberta’s tar sands to oil refineries in Texas.

But a group of 100 scientists on Wednesday called for a moratorium on further oil sands development, saying it isn’t compatible with stabilizing the climate and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets.

“We shouldn’t be doubling down or quadrupling down on the tar sands going from 2 million barrels per day to four, six, eight as industry is calling for by proposing expansions and proposing pipelines,” Simon Fraser University energy economist Mark Jaccard said.

Many scientists, environmental groups and President Obama have voiced concern about the effect of tar sands, or oil sands, on the climate. The U.S. State Department concluded that oil sands are more than 17 percent more carbon-intensive to extract than the average barrel of oil.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers announced Tuesday that oil sands will account for most of a 43 percent increase in Canadian crude oil production through 2030. Production is expected to grow from 3.7 million barrels per day to 5.3 million barrels. Of those, 4 million barrels will come from oil sands. [Continue reading…]

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Fort McKay: The Canadian town that sold itself to tar sands

The Guardian reports: Amid the strip mines and steam plants sprawled across the northern Alberta wilderness, Fort McKay is just a tiny dot on the map.

It is also one of the single biggest source sites of the carbon pollution that is choking the planet.

This tiny First Nations community grew rich on oil, and was wrecked by oil. Local Cece Fitzpatrick grabbed what she saw as a last chance for Fort McKay and decided to run for chief, promising to stand up to the industry which came here 50 years ago. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s newly harsh tone on Keystone seen signaling rejection

Bloomberg reports: Facing re-election and $4 a gallon gasoline, President Barack Obama sounded like an enthusiastic supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline at a March 2012 campaign rally.

“I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority,” he said in a speech in Cushing, Oklahoma, referring to a southern leg of the long-delayed project.

Those days are gone. Now when Obama describes the next proposed Keystone segment he says it will only create about 300 jobs. He calls the Calgary-based pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. a “foreign company” and says the oil won’t benefit American motorists.

And last week, he even said the process of extracting crude from the Alberta oil sands is “extraordinarily dirty.”

After years of review, Obama may be finally nearing a decision on the $8 billion project. The State Department has restarted a review it had paused while a challenge to the pipeline’s route worked its way through Nebraska’s high court. And by vetoing Republican-backed legislation last month to force approval, Obama preserved for himself the final say. [Continue reading…]

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Between China and Keystone XL

Elizabeth Kolbert writes: On Tuesday evening, when Senate Democrats rejected efforts to force a vote approving the Keystone XL pipeline, they knew they were just delaying the inevitable. The measure was defeated by one vote, and several naysayers will no longer be around come January. The new, Republican-controlled Senate will take up the measure again — “This’ll be an early item on the agenda in the next Congress,” incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed on Tuesday night — and, the next time around, everyone knows, it will pass. In preparation for this eventuality, White House officials have begun hinting that President Barack Obama might be willing to trade approval of the pipeline for Republican acceptance of one of his favored policies.

If this is indeed the President’s plan, let’s hope he asks the right price. Otherwise, his claim to an environmental legacy will end up being what he traded away. As it happens, the Keystone vote came exactly one week after Obama and China’s President, Xi Jinping, announced that they had agreed on a plan to curb carbon emissions. Under the agreement, China, which is now the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter on an annual basis, would cap its emissions by 2030. For its part, the United States, which is still the world’s greatest emitter on a cumulative basis, would reduce its emissions by twenty-eight per cent by 2025. (This is against a 2005 baseline — U.S. emissions have already fallen about ten per cent since that year, owing, in part, to a substitution of natural gas for coal in electricity production.) Obama called the agreement “historic,” and rightly so. It marks the first time that China has officially acknowledged that its rapidly rising emissions need to stop rising, and it also offers a significantly more ambitious goal for the U.S. than it has previously been willing to commit to. Grist called the deal “a game changer,” while Vox labelled it a “BFD.” Many commentators noted that the odds of getting a meaningful global agreement on climate change at a summit scheduled for next year in Paris — odds that had seemed close to zero — suddenly looked a good deal better. The U.S.-China deal, as a Guardian editorial put it, “transforms the prospects” for the summit.

President Obama deserves a great deal of credit for the agreement, as does Secretary of State John Kerry, who conducted the behind-the-scenes negotiations. But, as many commentators have also noted, the deal doesn’t get the U.S. or China remotely near where they need to be if the world is to avoid disaster — which both countries, along with pretty much every other state in the world, have defined as warming of more than two degrees Celsius. Chris Hope, a policy researcher at Cambridge University, ran the terms of the agreement through what’s known as an “integrated assessment model.” He also included in his analysis a recent commitment by the European Union to cut its emissions by forty per cent before 2030. He found that even if all of the pledges made so far are fulfilled, there will be “less than a 1% chance of keeping the rise in global mean temperatures” below two degrees Celsius: “Most likely the rise will be about 3.8° C.” [Continue reading…]

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The Keystone XL’s Senate failure isn’t the end of the pipeline as an act of war

Vi Waln writes: My Lakota people have a phrase – Mni Wiconi – which means “water of life”. Water is also Pejuta – our primary medicine. It is an extremely sacred element without which we cannot live, yet many people take it for granted. They do not realize: when our drinking-water sources are gone or contaminated, humanity will perish.

Water is also present in every single Lakota ceremony at which I pray – it is essential to our ceremonial way of life. Like our ancestors who sacrificed their very lives for our survival, many of us pray for the descendants who will soon stand in our place, and one of our most important prayers is for our descendants to always have an abundance of clean drinking water.

But TransCanada’s Keystone XL oil pipeline (KXL), which the company has proposed building directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, is still an immediate threat to all of us who drink water from that underground reservoir.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a major water supply for eight states, from here in North Dakota down to Texas and all the way out to New Mexico. Without clean water, these eight states will become uninhabitable. Many people – Indian and non-Indian alike – are prepared to fight the pipeline’s construction to protect the water and land, no matter the result of Tuesday evening’s vote in the US Senate.

Many Lakota people in particular view the construction of this pipeline through our treaty territory as a true act of war. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The most significant attempt yet to force US government approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline failed narrowly to clear the Senate on Tuesday night as a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed for the legislation to pass.

Fourteen Democrats, led by Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu, joined all 45 Republicans in voting for the bill, which called for the controversial energy project to be given immediate go-ahead after years of delay due to environmental concerns.

A similar bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Friday.

But, as expected, the bipartisan coalition failed to win over sufficient wavering Democrats, such as Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and independent Maine senator Angus King, who joined the party’s leadership and opposed the bill for a total of 41 votes against.

Landrieu, who is fighting to hold on to her seat in a run-off election next month, had called for the bill in a last-ditch effort to shore up her support in Louisiana. She attempted to heal party rifts afterwards, telling reporters in the Senate: “there is no blame, there is only joy in the fight”.

Nevertheless the size of the Democratic rebellion may put additional pressure on the White House to approve construction of the pipeline in future if, as promised, Republicans make a fresh attempt to pass legislation when the new Senate is sworn in next January. [Continue reading…]

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