Refugees face tough roads, says councillor

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CREMONA – A recent executive order from U.S. president Donald Trump has people throughout the world abuzz.

Trump’s controversial order bans people from certain countries from entering the United States for 90 days.

A village councillor in Cremona knows first hand the difficulties that refugees go through.

Joseph Shi came to Canada as a refugee from China via Thailand in 2000.

Shi told the Gazette he is very grateful to have been given the chance at a new life. After starting out in Vancouver, Shi came to Cremona in 2008 with his wife and opened a restaurant.

In 2013 after hearing residents’ complaints about the village’s issues such as fire hall overspending and downtown parking, he put his name forward and was elected to the village council.

Last year Shi was back in the news helping his brother, Fukui Shi, come to Canada.

“Before I came to Canada I ran away from China in 1997 and went to Thailand and got protection from the United Nations as a refugee,” said Shi.

“I also worked for the United Nations as an interpreter. I applied to come to Canada and they took me in.”

Shi was arrested in China nearly 30 years ago for leading a counter-revolutionary group and spent seven years in prison before fleeing the country.

Fukui began to follow in his brother’s footsteps and gathered evidence against the government in China. After receiving death threats and being attacked once, the brothers decided it was time for Fukui to get out.

Fukui and his family are now living in Calgary and he is looking for work. Shi said his brother is doing well. Shi himself is in his third year on the village council and is enjoying that.

The restaurant is doing very good business as well. Shi enjoys having people drop by and chat about politics, religion, social issues and everything else.

Both brothers are grateful for the Canadian government’s support and the efforts to get them both here, but they would like to see the government help other families suffering in China as well.

Shi said they were under the impression that their flight expenses would be covered but later found out the government is only covering the cost of flights for Syrian refugees.

“You can’t treat one group differently than the other,” he said. “It’s totally unfair. No matter which country the refugee is from, none of the refugees have good financial situations.

“They should be treated equally. (Fukui) was treated good and we appreciate the Canadian government for that, but we shouldn’t only take refugees from one country and ignore the rest.”

Shi told the Gazette he is no fan of Trump. In fact, the U.S. president reminds him of former Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. However, he does believe that refugees and immigrants should do their part by fitting in to their new society.

“After I came to Canada I found the majority of Canadians like to help out,” he said. “We all like to help out our neighbours when they are in trouble. But one thing I think is that when we’re helping our neighbour we don’t want those we are helping to tell us to change our lifestyles and social values.”

Shi says that Trump is too pro-business and his policies will only lead to more taxes for the middle and lower classes as the “rich get richer.”

“Another thing I worry about is that his inauguration speech was just like what Chairman Mao was saying 40 years ago,” he said. “The worst dictator in the world was saying the same thing. So I don’t like him.”

Shi did say that when refugees come to Canada or the U.S. they shouldn’t tell Canadians and Americans how they should live.

“A temporary ban isn’t permanent — they are just looking at ways to improve it I guess,” he said. “I think in the past few years Canada and the U.S. have been helping out a lot. Those we are helping come here and tell us we need to respect their lives.

“Really it’s like your neighbour coming to your house and telling you how to live. If they don’t respect our values, that’s a problem.”

Shi believes that refugees and immigrants should assimilate into the country’s culture when they arrive.

“If the social values in their home country is good, why has their country become so bad,” he said. “Why would they leave? If Canadian or American social values aren’t good enough why would you come here? If the country they are coming to (Canada or U.S.) changed to their social values wouldn’t it become just like the country they came from?”

Shi thinks that Canada and the U.S. should be helping refugees from areas that are most vulnerable.

“You can’t favour one group and ignore the others,” he said. “The Canadian government is just favouring one group (Syrians) over the others. Last year my brother arrived and they had to pay back the flight ticket, which was almost $800. But they are so poor they came in with nothing. Syrian refugees had their flight ticket waived although they are much richer than my brother.”

Shi said there are about 500,000 refugees in Thailand coming from countries such as Burma, Pakistan, China, Sir Lanka and others.

He said the situation in the refugee camps in Thailand is deplorable.

“Usually those eligible to come to Canada and the U.S. need to spend five years in Thailand with no income and no support,” he said. “Their kids cannot go to school but sooner or later we take them in. But when we take them in the kids’ education is gone. Why do we leave them there to be damaged like that?

“That is making trouble for ourselves because those refugees’ children can’t adapt to Canadian society because they don’t have any education. Either take them in earlier or never take them in. Why do we take them in and force them to wait five years?”

Shi believes it’s OK for officials to ask refugees questions about whether they like and support Canadian or U.S. values.

“To keep Canada as a good nation we need to have good values,” he said. “What Trump is doing: screening them with certain questions. From these questions can you screen out some potential terrorists?

“Those that refuse to adapt and say they won’t and are stubborn, I believe they have the highest potential to become terrorists. (The Trump order) is just about asking questions and giving them 90 days before figuring out what to do next. It’s not a perfect policy but they do need to do something. People that come over should respect others, should respect women, should respect everyone.”

– with files from Patricia Riley

“To keep Canada as a good nation we need to have good values.”Joseph Shi

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Craig Lindsay

Craig Lindsay is a reporter with the Mountain View Gazette who joined the newspaper in 2016. He covers news, sports and community events in Didsbury, Carstairs and Cremona. He is a photographer and columnist as well.