Canada’s immigration minister laced up his sneakers and worked up a sweat playing indoor soccer with a group of immigrant and refugee teens on Friday in Vancouver, following a meeting with the youth group.
Minister Ahmed Hussen sat down with the group of young people, called Fresh Voices, who had all experienced the immigrant or refugee settlement process in Canada.
The teens shared their recommendations, thoughts and questions with the minister, who arrived in Canada from Somalia as an unaccompanied refugee when he was 16.
“I’m always prepared to listen to people on the ground who are accessing the system, whether it’s refugee loans or other issues related to immigration, to see what we can do better,” said Hussen after the closed-door meeting.
“We had a great conversation around services that are accessed by refugee and newcomer youth, how those services sometime help, but sometimes miss the unique needs of refugee and newcomer youth,” he said.
The minister said he gained insight into the struggles some recently-arrived families have with things like learning a new language.
“Some of the issues that came up are that people are busy making a living and working minimum wage jobs to support themselves and their families, so they may not have the time to access language programs,” said Hussen.
Golsa Golestaneh, 19, came to Canada as a government-assisted refugee after leaving Iran in 2012 and spending two years in Turkey.
She didn’t get a chance to ask the question she had about possibly losing her permanent resident status if she goes back to Iran for a visit, but she was happy that the minister seemed interested in the issues around language classes.
But Golestaneh said she wasn’t entirely satisfied with the answers the group got from Hussen.
“When it comes to the responses that you get from politicians, it’s always kind of tricky,” she said. “I’m never satisfied with political responses, because it’s never really honest.”
“I would be satisfied if I see him taking something away from this meeting, rather than whatever he shared with us.”
But Hana Woldeyes, 19, who immigrated to Canada from Ethiopia with her two older brothers in 2013, seemed impressed by the meeting with Hussen.
“It has been wonderful,” Woldeyes said. “He answered most of our questions and we talked about some of the recommendations that Fresh Voices had.”
“It was awesome having him here and then looking up to him in general. He has walked in our shoes and we’re following his footsteps, so it has been great,” she said.
Sajedeh Zaki, 17, who originally came from Afghanistan, was also generally happy with the meeting.
“It was absolutely lovely to be sitting with a federal political character right next to us and talk about important topics to make a change,” said Zaki, who asked Hussen whether refugee and immigrant services are indefinite, or if they run out.
“He mentioned that no, you can have those service that are for immigrants and refugees up until you’re a citizen,” she said, adding that some stuff didn’t get addressed.
“He didn’t really touch upon the family reunification, which is also really, really, important.”
As for the minister’s soccer skills, Woldeyes was impressed.
“Oh, he’s good, yeah he was really good,” she said. “I challenged him a bit.”
This article by Rafferty Baker originally appeared on CBC on 7 Apr 2017