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

Immigration is again tackling refugee claimants through Provisions in Bill C-43

CBC Radio, The Current, 31 October 2014: Refugee advocates say the federal government’s omnibus bill includes potentially devastating changes to how Canada supports refugees and refugee claimants worry they could lose access to social assistance.

“Immigration is again tackling refugee claimants through a new omnibus bill” said Loly Rico, co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre to CBC Radio. Loly Rico was interview about the federal government’s omnibus bill that includes potentially devastating changes to how Canada supports refugees.

Provisions in Bill C-43 would allow provinces to impose residency requirements for access to social assistance for refugee claimants and other people without permanent status in Canada.

To hear the interview click here

One year on, Canada’s refugee system is failing some of the most vulnerable refugees: CCR

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) today made public its principal observations on Canada’s revised refugee determination system, as we approach the first anniversary of its implementation. On the eve of Human Rights Day, the CCR laments that refugees’ fundamental rights are threatened in Canada.
“The new refugee system is failing some claimants, including the most vulnerable people who have been traumatized by the persecution they have suffered,” said Loly Rico, President. “As Canadians we are proud of our history of welcoming and protecting refugees: unfortunately Canada is now a less welcoming country, and some refugees who need our protection are not getting it.”
On 15 December 2012, major and controversial changes to Canada’s refugee determination system were implemented. The CCR had consistently raised concerns that the new system would fail to offer some refugees the protection they need from Canada.
The CCR has prepared a report on key points in the new system as observed by members, including the following:

  •    The short timelines are causing serious problems: they create high levels of stress and many claimants are unable to prepare themselves adequately for their hearing.
  •     The short timelines are particularly damaging for vulnerable claimants, such as survivors of torture and people with health problems or disabilities.
  •     We have a two-tier system that discriminates against some claimants, who have less access to protection, on arbitrary grounds, notably based on their country of origin.

Overall, the new system suffers from uncertainty and poorly thought-out measures, which may be the result of going from one extreme (too slow hearings) to the other (too quick hearings). The CCR has consistently advocated that the solution lies in the middle (6 month timelines would work for most claimants).
Link to report, New refugee system – one

Media Release:



Canada: Still a Land of Opportunity?

For many immigrants to Canada, our country offered new hope and a new life. Does that still hold true for new Canadians? As part of the “Dude, Where’s My Future?” series, The Agenda examines if Canada is still a land of opportunity for immigrants.

We want to congratulate Treisy Rivera for her amazing participation in this interview broadcasted through The Agenda with Steve Paikin. To see the  interview click here.

 interview Treisy



Inauguran instalaciones para nuevo Programa Artístico-Cultural para Refugiados

Toronto.- Inauguran instalaciones para nuevo Programa Artístico-Cultural para Refugiados

 Con la presencia de políticos y de funcionarios de diversas entidades de asistencia financiera, pero sobre todo con una fuerte afluencia de jóvenes y refugiados provenientes de diversos países del mundo, y principalmente de América Latina, fueron inauguradas recientemente las nuevas instalaciones que albergarán el nuevo Centro Cultural para Refugiados en Toronto.

Las instalaciones están ubicadas en el 208 de Oakwood Avenue, una cuadra al norte de St. Clair Ave. West, en Toronto, en el edificio que ocupa el FCJ Refugee Centre, una institución que tiene más de 20 años sirviendo gratuitamente a los refugiados y nuevos inmigrantes que año con año llegan al país.

Francisco Rico-Martínez, Co Director del FCJ Refugee Centre, explicó que las nuevas instalaciones fueron financiadas principalmente con aportes de Trillium Foundation y de la congregación Faithful Companions of Jesus, y que serán utilizadas como un Centro de Arte y de la Cultura de los Refugiados e inmigrantes que llegan al país.

“Este será un lugar para reuniones de la comunidad, donde van a poder venir a hacer presentaciones. La idea es tener un centro de exposición, donde personas que no tengan donde exponer su arte lo puedan hacer acá, con lecturas de poesía, dibujo, danza, etc.”, explicó, agregando que las nuevas instalaciones llevarán por nombre “The art betwen us”, es decir el arte dentro de ti, o el arte entre nosotros.

Rico apuntó que muchas veces las personas se ven obligadas a salir de sus países de origen únicamente con una poesía en el corazón o con un diagrama que quieren crear en la mente, y en este sentido, las nuevas instanciaciones de la entidad van a tratar de acoger a estos inmigrantes de la forma más integral posible.

“Creemos que una forma de recibir a las personas y darles una bienvenida es a través de que ellos muestren su arte, lo que tienen, así es que a partir del próximo mes, cuando los refugiados vengan a hacer una consulta, les vamos a preguntar qué arte producen, y sobre esa base, si producen algún tipo de arte les vamos a ayudar a proyectarse, porque esto va a ayudar a que la persona se sienta bienvenida en Canadá y se sienta reconocida”, explicó.

Agregó que uno de los problemas que tienen los inmigrantes y refugiados que llegan al país es que son totalmente aislados y no son reconocidos, muchas veces porque no hablan bien el idioma y también porque no poseen las redes de contactos que les ayuden a expresarse artísticamente.

En este sentido, hay que darles una oportunidad para que puedan desarrollarse, y eso es precisamente lo que el centro “The art betwen us” tratará de lograr de una forma gratuita al igual que lo hace con todo el resto de programas que implementa. Esto implica que todos los programas que se desarrollen serán sin costo alguno, y de igual forma el uso de las instalaciones será gratis.

La cinta inaugural de las nuevas instalaciones fue cortada por Jonah Schein, Parlamentario Provincial que representa el área de Davenport, donde están localizadas las oficinas del FCJ Refugee Centre, así como también por Bonnie Moser, líder provincial de la congregación Faithful Companions of Jesus, entidad religiosa que estuvo a la base del nacimiento de este centro para refugiados en el año 1991.

Sin embargo, la atracción principal de la tarde estuvo a centrada en el grupo de jóvenes refugiados que están organizados en la entidad, y que serán quienes lideren la nueva proyección artístico cultural.

“Hace año y medio creamos este grupo de jóvenes y nunca creímos que iba a tener una demanda tan grande como la que tiene. Hay 75 jóvenes identificados en el grupo, los activos son como 25 o 30, y la gran mayoría están llegando porque tienen un problema, que es la falta de educación después de que se gradúan de High School porque no tienen documentos y no pueden entrar al College o a la Universidad y están buscando una alternativa”, explicó Rico.

En este sentido, dijo que a largo plazo se espera también que las nuevas instalaciones sean utilizadas para impulsar el primer programa de Escuela Libre entre los refugiados de la ciudad de Toronto.

“Queremos generar un programa educativo que sea reconocido por los Collegues y Universidades, con créditos básicos, para que las personas puedan venir a recibir clases con temas específicos y que les sirvan como créditos y les permita en algún momento entrar a la Universidad o al College, y que no se sientan totalmente perdidos en un limbo”, dijo, ante de señalar que los solicitantes de refugio no tienen acceso a educación universitaria o de colleges una vez que terminan la secundaria.

 Recibirán reconocimiento de Skills for Change

 Como un reconocimiento a su trabajo con refugiados e inmigrantes, Francisco Rico-Martínez y Loly Rico, ambos Co Directores del FCJ Refugee Centre, recibirán el próximo 6 de Junio el premio “Pioneers for Change” en la categoría “Literacy and Access to Information”.

Este reconocimiento lo realiza anualmente la organización Skills for Change y busca premiar a personas que son considerados Pioneros para el Cambio, es decir personas extraordinarias que han hecho una contribución importante a Canadá y que son una inspiración para los recién llegados a seguir su visión y trabajar por su propio éxito.

Comunidad hispana está afectada por la trata de personas

Toronto .- Comunidad hispana está afectada por la “Trata” de personas

Lorena acababa de cumplir 20 años de edad cuando encontró lo que parecía ser el camino para realizar todos sus sueños: un anuncio buscando modelos para comerciales de televisión que apareció publicado en uno de los periódicos más importantes de su país.

Llamó al número indicado y le dieron una cita, en la cual le explicaron que uno de los requisitos para trabajar como modelo en esa compañía era la disposición para hacerlo fuera del país. Esto le pareció aún más atractivo.

Su mentor en la agencia de modelos se encargó de que le hicieran varias sesiones de fotografía, y luego le ayudó a obtener su pasaporte, le dio dinero, y pocas semanas después se encontraba aterrizando en el aeropuerto de Montreal. Eran los tiempos en que los ciudadanos de su país no necesitaban visa para viajar a Canadá.

En el aeropuerto la recogieron y la llevaron a un hotel, para dos días después trasladarla hasta Toronto, donde la alojaron en el sótano de una casa en un barrio residencial. Ahí también se encontraban otras dos chicas: una ucraniana y otra israelita.

La trataron muy bien, le proporcionaron ropa y alimento, y lo único que en ese momento encontró extraño es que le pidieron sus documentos de viaje. “Para que no vayas a tener problemas con la policía dado que no podes trabajar porque estas como visitante en el país”, le explicaron.

Pero su calvario comenzó cuando tuvo que presentarse a su primer día de trabajo: modelaría desnuda en un club nocturno, y eventualmente debería atender clientes de forma privada.

Con apenas 20 años de edad, sin hablar inglés, sola y sin dinero en un país extraño, a Lorena no le quedó más remedio que hacerle frente a su nueva vida y esperar el momento adecuado en el cual pudiera salir de ésta. No fue fácil, lo costó cinco años lograrlo y asegura que aún no puede decir con certeza que esa etapa de su villa ya quedó atrás. 

Pero su caso no es único y es nada más la punta de un problema aún más grande que aqueja a la sociedad canadiense, y que no solo se reduce a casos de explotación sexual como el de Lorena, sino que abarca otras industrias como la de servicios y la de trabajadores agrícolas temporales. Esto fue precisamente lo que plantearon expertos en el tema durante el Foro “Trata de personas para trabajo forzoso: creando conciencia y respuestas” (Human Trafficking for Forced Labour: Raising Awareness and Building Response).

La actividad fue organizada por el FCJ Refugee Centre y formó parte de la jornada que impulsó en el mes de abril el Departamento de Justicia de Canadá, conocida como Semana Nacional de Concientización sobre Víctimas del Crimen (National Victims of Crime Awareness Week 2013).

En esta, destacados expertos brindaron una perspectiva amplia sobre la problemática, misma que afecta particularmente a ciudadanos de los países de América Latina. Es por ello que entre los ponentes estuvieron Marisa Méndez Berry, Directora de Políticas de Asentamiento del Consejo Canadiense para los Refugiados (CCR), Samanta García Fialdini, Coordinadora del Proyecto de Trata, del CCR, y Alfredo Barahona, Coordinador del Programa de Derechos de los Migrantes e Indígenas, de la organización Kairos.

Loly Rico, Presidenta del CCR, dijo que el objetivo del Foro era crear una serie de recomendaciones para enfrentar, concientizar y prevenir la problemática de la trata de personas, particularmente en Canadá, debido a que es un problema grande que afecta anualmente a miles de personas.

Explicó que es importante hacer la diferencia entre “trata de personas” y “tráfico de personas”, porque “el tráfico”, dijo, se da cuando alguien le paga a una persona para que le ayude a cruzar la frontera de un país, y una vez al otro lado, le hace el pago correspondiente y ahí se acaba la relación.

“La trata”, sin embrago, se da cuando se recluta a alguien en un país extranjero, ya sea con engaños o de forma voluntaria, y se le trae a Canadá a trabajar en un tipo de trabajo donde es explotado.

Tradicionalmente se ha considerado la “trata de personas” referida a casos como el de Lorena, donde con engaños las mujeres son traídas a Canadá y luego son puestas a trabajar en burdeles o en clubes nocturnos para beneficio de redes organizadas de trata de personas. Sin embargo el concepto es más amplio, explicaron en el foro, e incluye la trata de personas para trabajos forzados y la trata de personas para tráfico de órganos.

En la primera, dijo Samanta García, se podría incluir a muchos trabajadores que llegan al país bajo el Programa de Trabajadores Extranjeros Temporales y bajo los Permisos de Residencia Temporal, quienes debido a las características de dichos programas llegan al país y quedan en una situación de vulnerabilidad respecto a sus empleadores.

“La trata de personas es un crimen y hay que denunciarlo”, dijo Rico,  agregando que “si la persona no tiene estatus migratorio y es reconocida como víctima de trata, puede recibir un permiso temporal de residencia por 180 días con un permiso de trabajo abierto, con lo que puede decidir si se queda o no, y si colabora con las autoridades”, aseguró.

Como ejemplo, ahí está el caso de Lorena.




Samanta García, Coordinadora del Proyecto de Trata del Consejo Canadiense para los Refugiados (CCR), durante el Foro “Trata de personas para trabajo forzoso: creando conciencia y respuestas”, en Toronto.

For migrant workers, injury often means a one-way ticket home

After Eloid Drummond was hit by a car in Exeter, Ont., and suffered a dislocated shoulder, he was declared “AWOL” by his employer — and Canada — because he refused to quietly go home to Jamaica.

Unable to continue farm work, he was terminated from Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program, and hence lost his social insurance card and health coverage for his injuries.

Being labeled AWOL (absent without leave) also meant he couldn’t be rehired within the program, which each year brings in 25,000 foreign farm workers from Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.

On Friday, after fighting repatriation ever since the May 2010 accident, Drummond, 39, will finally get badly needed surgery on his right shoulder at Humber River Regional Hospital.

Had it not been for Drummond’s stubborn determination, he would have become just another number on Service Canada’s AWOL list.

According to government statistics, 3,709 migrant farm workers were deemed AWOL in the program between 1996 and 2011. A further 1,198 were sent home for medical reasons during that period, and 2,923 were flown back due to “breach of contract.”

Chris Ramsaroop, of Justicia for Migrant Workers, a grassroots advocacy group, said injured workers may be covered under workers’ comp. But there are generally no modified jobs available on farms, and farmers are under no obligation to rehire the worker for the following season. It’s easier to simply send injured workers home, where they may find it difficult to get proper treatment or to communicate with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Often they end up not getting the compensation they’re entitled to.

“Rather than provide full access to healthcare in Canada, migrant workers are repatriated, or unilaterally sent to their home country,” Ramsaroop said, describing the situation as a catch-22.

“If they decide not to return home and seek medical and legal support here, they are then determined to have gone AWOL.”

Drummond, a fisherman and farmer from St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, came to work at a greenhouse in Exeter in 2005. Since then, he has spent eight months each year in Canada, harvesting and packaging sweet peppers.

On May 28, 2010, Drummond was on his way to his bunkhouse after sending money home to his family in Jamaica when a vehicle hit his bicycle at an intersection on Exeter’s Main St. He was thrown off and landed on his back.

Drummond claimed the driver ran a stop sign. But police charged Drummond instead and slapped him with a $110 fine for not riding within the marked lane (Drummond says there was no marked bike lane).

“He gave me two weeks to pay the fine, but I said, ‘I’m not wrong. I’m not going to pay the ticket. It’s not my fault,’” Drummond recalled.

While recovering at his bunkhouse and working reduced hours with modified duties, Drummond said, he was called into his boss’s office in July 2010 and handed a one-way ticket to Jamaica.

Although the charge was dismissed and Drummond has managed to remain here legally on a visitor’s visa, he is unable to work and has had to fight to get his shoulder fixed.

He finally got the driver’s car insurance company to foot a $5,000 bill for the complex reconstructive shoulder surgery he needs.

But the road to recovery will be long, said Drummond, who has been living on meagre savings, help from friends and small payouts from the insurance company.

“I need six weeks of physiotherapy and it’s going to take another six months for recovery,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to live on.”




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