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network 24/02/2017 - 03:00PM

Ala’a Jarban on being devalued in Canada

The following reflection was written by Ala’a Jarban. In this piece, Ala’a addresses and deconstructs the comfortable truth* that immigrants have it better in Canada than in their homelands.

Ala’a Jarban is a refugee, a committed human rights educator and youth activist who played a key role in the Arab Spring uprisings in Yemen. You can follow him on twitter @AJYemen.

You have probably heard the notion that Canada is a safe haven for refugees and that refugees do much better once they arrive here. I am here to challenge this comfortable truth for you. More specifically, I am challenging the notion of comfort that refugees supposedly feel once they are in Canada. Imagine your country of birth has struggled with conflicts since the day you were born; conflicts which have made it one of the poorest countries in the world. Imagine that despite growing up poor and barely being able to pay for education, you start working from the age of 9 to support your studies. Imagine that all of your sweat and tears pay off in the end and you manage to get a double university degree (in Political Science and Business) in a country where a third of its population cannot continue their primary education. Imagine doing that while simultaneously mobilizing and organizing a popular revolution that challenges a 33-year-old dictatorship, that later came to be known as the Arab Spring. That was my life back in Yemen.

 Now imagine that your life is in grave danger and you have to move to Canada for your personal safety. But safety is not the only thing you thought to be special about Canada, you also have hopes of no longer having to struggle to achieve your dreams. Here comes the first obstacle in your way: remember the double university degree that you managed to get despite the odds; imagine all of that work turns to dust and your degrees become invalid in Canada. Imagine that all of those years of hard work and resilience are not accepted, recognized or valued. Imagine having to turn back the clock and being forced to spend another 4 precious years of your life doing the same degree you already did instead of using that time to work on changing the world. Imagine doing it this time while being drowned in student loans and no longer having the same motivation. Imagine that even though you already have this degree and expertise in your studies, you are told that you might want to choose another field because “refugees” like you usually struggle in this field of politics. I am incredibly grateful for the safety I have right now, but I spend every day of my life thinking of how my life could have been if I stayed where my competences and education are recognized. And sometimes I imagine how my life could have been if the Canada that I had imagined before coming here had recognized that in me as well. Wouldn’t you?

* #ComfortableTruths are mainstream attitudes and ideas about nationhood, belonging and identity that, despite not being true (such as "immigrants have it easy in Canada"), have become so engrained in the Canadian imaginary and mainstream culture that they become orthodoxy. As part of Cinema Politica's Nations & Migrations project, we reached out to activists and artists across the country and asked them to share their thoughts and reactions to these so-called truths.