In Our World ...Forced Migration
Refugees and asylum seekers are not immigrants; they did not voluntarily leave their countries to pursue a better life, or greater opportunity. They are fleeing war, genocide, and/or are politically hounded and hunted. The Geneva Convention defines a refugee as one “who, by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside their country of nationality and is unable or, by reason of that fear, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country.”2 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children.
Of the many countries that swore to honour the Convention and accept refugees into their borders, some have added or expanded the grounds for being considered a refugee (such as fear of torture, or cruel and unusual treatment, in the case of Canada, which has also recognized homosexuality as a “particular social group”). But no countries uphold this international law unequivocally: everywhere asylum seekers go, they are faced with protectionist and “security” policies that often see them illegally returned to danger, to places that are simply impossible to survive in.
Environmental migration is gaining increasing currency as grounds to consider migration “forced.” Whether a nation state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from environmental disaster such as starvation through drought, tsunami, or earthquake (consider Burma in 2008), or is the cause of that disaster itself (think of the Three Gorges Dam in China), these situations should be recognized as displacing people.
In any event, the violence and danger that force people to move are beyond their control. What could be so grave, so frightening, as to make you leave everything you know—your community, your language, your possessions, your home? No one chooses this, nor such risky routes and methods of travel as are usually necessary. And upon arrival in a potential host country, most refugees are met with suspicion and interrogation, are derided as freeloaders and queue-jumpers—and often turned away.
When permission to remain is granted, it is often conditional or temporary, leaving newcomers in a continued climate of extreme insecurity. Some are detained for appalling periods at Immigration Holding Centres due to missing or inappropriate documentation. Others wait on applications that they hope will stay their deportation. Still others who have been recognized as refugees at their hearing, and are, in principle, protected persons, are nevertheless waiting on Permanent Residence status (for which there is a hefty fee), work permits, social insurance numbers, or travel documents. The most heartrending insecurities belong to those doing battle with family reunification mechanisms, trying to sponsor loved ones to join them, missing (and worrying about) their children for whom they have been asked to submit DNA evidence.
For a long stretch, many newcomers live in limbo. Their adjustment is a very stressful time, fraught with tensions over resources: making sure children settle in school, coping with endless bureaucracy and paperwork (usually not in one’s first language), finding palatable food—all the while dealing with different stages and degrees of culture shock.
This is exactly the time when educators encounter newcomers, especially in, but not limited to, language instruction classes. It is here, in the aftermath of violence and among all this stress and pressure that folks are going to do their learning. Understanding more about the contexts of forced migration, and the issues impacting survivors, may help guide us as we engage in learning with newcomers.
Canadian Centre for Justice Studies.(2005). Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile
Starr, M. (2004). Forward in A. Grant, Finding My Talk. Calgary: Fifth House Books.
2. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sweater, by Heather Lash
These resources explore the different dimensions of the many violences associated with forced migration – the reasons for it, the experience of it.
Breaking the Silence and Circles of Support: Assisting Survivors of Psychological Trauma by Yaya de Andrade
The Learning of an Embattled Body by Bethany Osborne
Responding to the Needs of Women Who Survive Torture: From Silent Torment to Speaking Out by Sabina Acosta
Trauma and the Adult English Language Learner. ERIC Digest.
|Learning & Violence Home|
|BUILDING AN UNDERSTANDING: • The problem • Violence • Impact|
|EXPLORING POSSIBILITIES: • Learning processes • Helping yourself learn • Helping others learn • Learning to teach|
|CREATING CHANGE: • Changing education • Where in the world • Taking care of self|
|IMAGINING A FUTURE: • Dreams of a different world|