Thank you, Mr. Chair and esteemed members.
Until a couple of years ago, I never wanted to tell the people I met that I was a refugee claimant. I tried to justify hiding the truth about my status. I told myself that, if people knew, they might respond to me with fear, hatred or, at best, with sympathy.
A refugee is a security threat or an economic liability. A refugee is a creature who needs help. Many people, even advocates and sympathetic policy-makers, view refugees only from a humanitarian lens. They overlook them as sources of talent and opportunity. Today, as a refugee, I will talk about refugees as opportunities and power to be harnessed.
I spearheaded non-profits and sincerely worked and still do to make Canada a better place. I co-founded organizations like Jumpstart and the Syrian Canadian Foundation. Jumpstart helps hundreds of newcomer refugees from all backgrounds gain meaningful employment and improve their language skills. As a community leader, I have promoted Canada's refugee program in meetings with government representatives from Sweden, Italy and the Middle East.
I have contributed to the development of the global compact on refugees at formal consultations in Geneva as a member of the Network for Refugee Voices. I met and discussed topics with many state members from the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, the EU and others.
With all of that, the question that still boggles my mind is why so many people shy away from the conversation about refugees' economic contributions.
Why shy away when the City of Vancouver told us that about 2,500 Syrian refugees would contribute at least $563 million to Canada in 20 years?
Why shy away when the Penn Foundation proved that every dollar invested in refugees earned $2 back in less than five years?
Why shy away when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued research showing that refugees gave back $63 billion more than what they took in services in the last 10 years?
Why shy away when my organization, Jumpstart, which was founded, co-managed and run by refugees, contributes $7.50 yearly in tax-saving contributions to Canada for every dollar invested in supporting refugees finding meaningful employment?
Why shy away when the Syrian refugees who started the company Peace by Chocolate in a Canadian town of less than 5,000 hired close to 50 local citizens?
Why shy away when a young Syrian refugee woman, Aya Hamoud, learned coding in less than six months and started working with one of the most successful Canadian start-ups at the age of 20?
Why shy away when my friend, James Madhier, who is a refugee from South Sudan, founded the Rainmaker Enterprise that employs nine Canadians and positively empowers 1,500 people in South Sudan?
Why shy away when Mr. Marty Trim from Alberta gave six acres of unused land of lost potential to two refugee families who turned it into a farm that provides Canadians with fresh local goods and the CRA with fresh tax dollars? They even donated 800 pounds of lettuce to Calgary food banks.
These examples can go on and on, so you tell me if resettling refugees and welcoming refugees is good for Canada.
My recommendation lies in the fact that there will be only two full-time working Canadians for each retiree, and this tells us that Canada is in great need of immigrants and refugees. Adopting the global compact on migration and the global compact on refugees and co-hosting global refugee forums to share best practices of inclusion and partnering with other nations is the right path to pursue.
Economic studies tell us that Canada's investments in refugees and immigrants are, above all, the smart thing to do. We had better constructively criticize and improve our settlement and resettlement efforts to be more efficient, rather than spread fear to divide this nation that was built on the shoulders of refugees and immigrants.
It is in Canada's interest to build on the success and the leadership of innovative programs that enable the mobility of refugees between countries, including private sponsorship, humanitarian admission, and the economic mobility pathway project, a world-leading pilot program pioneered by Canada.
Canada would benefit by realizing and advocating for refugees to be seen as legitimate contributors, as policy-makers who can themselves participate in settlement and resettlements efforts, peace-building, transitional justice, and reconstruction. Nothing about us should be without us.
Finally, I could never think of a better story to leave you with than that of Omar, a seven-year-old kid in one of the Lebanon camps. Omar kept jumping up and down, yelling, telling the camp supervisor that he is smart, and he can count and write in English, from one to 100, something he learned on his own in the camp. Not thinking, the supervisor told Omar to bring a pen and paper to show him. With a sad, thoughtful face, Omar told the supervisor to wait, and then he started running from one tent to another. Then Omar ran back to confess that he did not have a pen or paper. While confessing, Omar squatted down on the ground, dug his nails and fingers into the mud, and started tracing out the numbers. Omar is a symbol of 68 million resilient human beings who are refugees, waiting on nations like Canada to see their power and determination, and to do something.