No Longer a Stranger in a Strange Land

By Myra Ross - Thursday, June 26 2014

A sojourner for many years, Ramazan Nassery’s experience makes him ideally suited for his position as a Coordinator at the YMCA Immigrant Settlement Services.

When Nassery left his homeland of Afghanistan in 1995, he left behind his parents and siblings. Like his refugee counterparts, Nassery left his homeland to escape the instability created by decades of war and a lack of foreign investment. War-torn Afghanistan remains impoverished and underdeveloped, with an unemployment rate as high as 35 per cent. Some 42 per cent of the population survives on less than $1 a day.

Ramazan Nassery

Ramazan Nassery served as a Round Table host at a June 13 Citizenship Ceremony at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre.

Becoming Canadian in Wood Buffalo: This article is part of a series of stories, profiles, photographic essays, blogs and videos documenting the journey undertaken by newcomers to our region.

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Becoming Canadian in Wood Buffalo

Nassery lived in exile in Pakistan and resided in Balochistan Province for some time, but he later moved to Jakarta, Indonesia.

“I left Pakistan because it was not a place (one) could put down roots,” Nassery says. “You cannot become a citizen of that country. There is no opportunity to become part of the society. You can only be a temporary resident.”

Unfortunately, the same rule applies in Indonesia, so he continued his sojourn until he immigrated to Canada in May 2005.

Nassery resided in Toronto and started to grow in confidence as he upgraded his education and put his international experience into practice. He subsequently moved to Calgary for better employment opportunities and, within three months of his arrival, he got a job with the YMCA of Wood Buffalo working with new arrivals to Canada.

Nassery says: “I was on the move until I landed in Fort McMurray in 2008. Today, this is my home.”

As an immigrant who has settled in Wood Buffalo, Nassery is acutely aware of the significance of language proficiency and education in supporting newcomers.

English fluency and the provision of English language programs in Wood Buffalo for new arrivals are of paramount importance, he says. Language proficiency is a specific requirement for new arrivals who intend to work in the oil patch. Understanding English-language signs and instructions is essential to safety on site.

Understanding English isn’t just a benefit in the workplace: it’s also part of the pathway to Canadian citizenship. To become a citizen, adults between the ages of 18 and 54 must provide proof of listening and speaking proficiency in either English or French and achieve a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 4.

“There are Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) programs at Keyano College,” Nassery says. “The LINC program is enough (to develop the necessary fluency) if it is offered often enough.”

But there are barriers to acquiring English proficiency. Completing LINC Level 5 on a part-time basis can take five years. Add two years of educational upgrading and it can take seven years of schooling before a newcomer learns English and acquires Grade 12 equivalency. In addition, there is no financial support available for those who are not attending school full time. Few newcomers are able to devote seven years to learning English and obtaining Grade 12 equivalency just to begin a post-secondary education.

“As a community we need to put the resources in place to enable newcomers to get education and meaningfully participation in the labour market,” Nassery says.

No longer a sojourner and settled in his home of Fort McMurray, helping all newcomers to Canada is his passion.

“I am coming to work most of the time excited,” he says of his job at the YMCA. “I like and enjoy being there.”

Nassery says it can be challenging to watch the struggles of new arrivals to realize their dream of a new life in Canada and their adjustments to so many changes and the requirements of becoming permanent residents and citizens.

“It’s hard getting there,” says Nassery, who proudly received his citizenship certificate at Composite High School in 2009.

“You must have passion in this work or you wouldn’t survive. Problem-solving is sometimes difficult, but we must make the effort to make things better. My work and the people I work with have kept me here and will continue to keep me here for a long time.

“This is my home.”

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