Dance Steps for young immigrants

Dance imitates life in class aimed at helping migrant youth cope with challenges

Weekly program helps at-risk young immigrants, many living here alone and undocumented, find solace and confidence.

The dance hall looks nothing like a professional studio — there are no hardwood sprung floors or wall-to-wall mirrors.

But nothing can dampen the enthusiasm and determination of these youthful dancers — many of whom have come to Canada on their own, without documents — to express their inner feelings and explore their passion for any dance form, from hip hop to salsa, dancehall, traditional African, jazz and break-dance.

With Tinashe’s catchy All Hands On Deck blasting from a boombox this weeknight, the 15 young men and women gyrate their elastic bodies to the tune, carefully following guest instructor Irvin Washington’s every cue.

“Cut, push! Cut, push!” shouts Washington, a professional dancer and choreographer, tapping his toes on the plastic flooring. “You have to do it over the top. Do it! I love big moves. It is okay to feel crazy. You need to build up toward these explosions.”

For the teenage dancers in the weekly Dance Steps program, the community rec room — with plastic flooring and its furniture pushed back to the edges of the walls — is a place to find solace and sanity amid the craziness swirling around their young lives as immigrants.

“You come here and check your worries and fears at the door,” said Francois Dushimiyimana, 20, who left his family behind in Rwanda when he sought asylum here in December 2013, via the United States.

“We all go through our journey alone, and no one seems to understand. Here we meet other people in the same boat and share our stories. We have great support because we’ve been through the same, and we don’t judge one another.”

Offered weekly at the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre and St. Stephen’s Community House, the program was initiated by the FCJ Refugee Centre last fall to help some three dozen at-risk newcomer youth learn life skills through dance classes that would otherwise be out of their reach financially.

“These youth face all kinds of barriers. Some of them can’t go to school or work, and can’t advance in life. We want them to emerge and take leadership. Dance is just a vehicle,” said program co-ordinator Diana DaSilva, herself a former professional dancer and teacher.

“We run our routines and put our choreography together and perfect it. They have to be very disciplined, learn to communicate, work as a team, resolve any conflict and listen to each other. And we want them to be empowered in the process and take these skills with them outside the classroom.”

Ane’ssa Hanson, 18, was sent by her mother to Canada from Jamaica on Christmas Eve 2011, to stay with her aunt and cousins “for a better life.” Now living on her own and attending Grade 12, Hanson is an avid dancer who would like to pursue traditional African dance and dancehall as a career.

“This is the one place that I can be myself, because everyone is a friend. We can all have fun and joke around, doing all these crazy, wild moves,” said Hanson, who does housekeeping to support herself and has applied for permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian grounds.

“You got teased for your Caribbean accent in school and have a hard time fitting in. Definitely, financially it is always a challenge. Did I make the right choice to come to Canada? Yes, when I’m here (dancing). No, whenever I feel homesick.”

Washington, the guest instructor, said he was impressed by the excitement and enthusiasm shown by the youth.

“It is good to see them fight for it. It’s not like these aspiring dancers are going to be on TV dancing with Beyonce, but dance can change lives. These young people have to fight and fight and fight in their lives. This will give them the confidence they need to push through it.”

That rings true to Dushimiyimana, who had been told he looked ridiculous when he danced and has to practise his new moves in a tiny bathroom, the only place at home with a mirror.

“We have performed at a few public events. It’s nerve-wracking, but it felt great to be dancing in front of so many people, clapping and smiling at you, having a good time,” said Dushimiyimana. “It is self-empowering.”

Dance Steps will perform at a Black History Month celebration at the Davenport-Perth community centre on Feb. 26

dance program



Mohsen: A teenager on the run, dreaming of Canada

Mohsen lives illegally in a factory with dozens of other male teens. All the boys have fled Afghanistan. They are on their own, trying to illegally cross through Europe to get to Germany, Sweden or France, countries where they believe they’ll find a better life.

There is no electricity in this hollowed-out factory. No plumbing, no comfortable couch and no Xbox. In fact, there are few intact walls or rooms, let alone a kitchen or a refrigerator full of groceries. Empty takeout containers, plastic bags and other garbage litter the concrete floors. Laundry, freshly washed using water from the hose, hangs on pegs to dry.

The factory is across the street from Greece’s second-biggest port. From here, the boys can sit on the roof and watch the activity, the movement of the guards and, most important, the times the ferries load in order to cross the Gulf of Patras to Italy. Some of them dream of stowing away.

Photojournalist Giorgos Moutafis and I found the factory courtesy of some older Afghan men who live in another abandoned building in Patras. They knew we were reporting on the plight of unaccompanied child migrants fleeing conflict and poverty, so they took us to visit the boys.

It was hard to miss Mohsen taking a shower. I asked him if the water was cold. “Very cold, miss!” he yelled out.

One of the remarkable things you notice about these homeless kids is how clean they are. It was more than 100C in the late August sun, yet all of them had well-kept, short hair, all were clean shaven and none of their clothes were dirty.

Another Afghan who lives in Patras, Zahidi Mohamed, 29, comes by the factory almost daily to check on the boys. He helps them keep up appearances by cutting their hair.

Mohsen, a Hazara Afghan, told me that he left Kabul when he was just 13 at the urging of his family. The Hazara are among the most persecuted ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

He desperately misses his parents. Especially his mother, who he said was very ill. He had not spoken to her in months.

“I can’t, I don’t have any money and there is no work in Greece,” he said.

“I left to find a better life,” he said, the irony not lost on him.

He told me he missed everything about home, especially his mother’s cooking.

At the end of our talk, I gave Mohsen 20 euros and told him to call his mom from a local internet café. We also exchanged Facebook information. He promised to stay in touch as he made his way through Europe.

When I left the factory, I never expected to hear from him again. But I did. Just days later, when I was in Thessaloniki, he sent me a Facebook message that said, “Hi miss.”

Then the messages started coming over a period of days and weeks. “I’m very sick,” said one. “Can you help me?” asked another. “I need help, you know.” And then: “It is very hard to live like this,” and, “I want to come to Toronto.”

His request fell on me like a dead weight. I wanted to help him but thought the possibilities would be slim. He was in Greece and registered with Greek authorities as a migrant.

According to European Union law, the first nation in which a refugee lands is the country responsible for their paperwork and asylum. For Mohsen, that is Greece.

I begged Mohsen to check in with Praksis, a youth shelter and drop-in centre in Patras. Besides hot meals and a change of clothes, Praksis also has doctors on staff, psychologists, social workers and lawyers.

Unsure of what else I could do, I talked to Debra Black, one of the Star’s immigration reporters, who put me in contact with Francisco Rico-Martinez, the co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.

The economist and lawyer was born in El Salvador, but came to Canada as a refugee in 1990 with Loly, his wife, and their two children. He now devotes his life to helping newcomers to Canada.

Read more:

Tours help refugee claimants navigate asylum hearings

On a recent Thursday, 11 asylum seekers streamed into Hearing Room 9 on the fourth floor of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Toronto headquarters on Victoria St. But not to have their cases heard.
Instead, pen and notepaper ready, the claimants from nine countries paid careful attention to “tour guide” Dan Crawford, as he offered tips that could mean a lot to the success of their asylum claims.
Crawford, an analyst with the refugee board, has presented more than 10 such READY orientation tours for GTA refugee claimants since May, an effort to help them navigate the asylum hearing process and learn about what to do and not to do at the proceeding.
“We are here to assist you to prepare for your hearings, see the room, learn about the process and ask questions,” said Crawford, standing in front of the dais where the asylum judge would normally sit at a refugee hearing. “It is your obligation to disclose evidence to support your claim.
Read more

RAD info session March 12

RAD information sessions will provide the Appellant with a FREE opportunity to be better prepared for the presentation of their appeal before the RAD. Rejected refugees will learn the steps to follow and how to document your appeal before the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD). RAD info-sessions are hosted by the Coalition of Service Providers for Refugee Claimants in Southern Ontario in partnership with the Refugee Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
REGISTRATION: To register for the next RAD, please fill out the REGISTRATION FORM below and when you finish submit it to Carolina Teves:
We will contact you to confirm your registration. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

READY Tour orientation for refugee hearing on March 5th 2015

READY TOUR Ready Tour provides Refugee Claimants with a FREE opportunity to be better prepared for their hearing, see a hearing room, learn what happens at the hearing, and ask questions about the process.

Date: March 5th  , 2015

Time: 1:30 pm

Place: 74 Victoria St

To confirm registration please contact Carolina Teves at


For registration and more information please visit



We cannot leave anyone behind

This is a call to include all people with precarious immigration status in all emergency benefits and measures for housing, health services, education, employment and income support during the present health crisis.

There has been a significant response to support Canadians. The Canadian Government’s Economic Response Plan was implemented to support workers and businesses facing unprecedented challenges – including those not eligible for the Employment Insurance (EI) program and those without paid sick leave. While we applaud these supports, there are glaring gaps. People who fall between the cracks are some of our most vulnerable community members.

Many marginalized and oppressed people who walk through the doors at Refugee and Migrant support centres across the country, find themselves in need of support.  Now, in light of COVID-19, the situation for these communities is increasingly unbearable.

Most migrant workers, refugees (claimants and rejected claimants) and non-status individuals are ineligible to apply for current supports. They do not qualify for EI and Canadian Revenue Agency managed programs. Often, they are paid at minimum wage, some even below. International students are already restricted to the number of hours they can work per week, limiting their access to EI.

More than 30 community organizations and groups in Ontario endorsed an Open Letter in Solidarity with Migrant Workers, Non-Status individuals and their families as community workers, organizers, volunteers, teachers, students and residents of Ontario, Canada.

In unique times like this, Canadians must come together and not leave anyone behind.\

To read the complete letter:

Click to access We-Cannot-Leave-Anyone-Behind-1-1.pdf

Newcomer Settlement Program

Over the years, the FCJ Refugee Centre has become a leading expert on issues that affect the settlement sector and help  improving services for vulnerable newcomer populations experiencing multiple barriers!

Through the Newcomer Settlement Program workshops, FCJ Refugee Centre addresses the current need for training opportunities for various sectors : settlement organizations, community groups, students, front line workers, etc.


-Address the multiple settlement needs of vulnerable newcomer populations experiencing multiple barriers
-Equip vulnerable newcomers with the information and tools necessary to successfully navigate legal and immigration processes
-Connect newcomer populations with pertinent and up-to-date resources and information to ease their settlement and transition processes.

This program is made possible by the generosity of:






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