Living the Experience
Migration, Exclusion, and Anti-Racist Practice
Research relating to the African refugee population in Canada is scant. Macdonald Ighodaro, professor of Sociology and Criminology at Saint Mary’s University helps to fill this intellectual gap. Through a critical anti-racist lens, Ighodaro’s book, Living the Experiences: Migration, Exclusion and Anti-Racist Practice, sheds light on the harsh situation of many African refugees and longer-establish African Canadians. Ighodaro posits that Canada’s refugee policy is unjust in that it favors white-skinned Europeans over dark-skinned Africans. To buttress his claim, he point to Canada’s preferential treatment toward Yugoslav refugees over Somalis in the 1990s. The former, unlike the latter, were granted permanent status in Canada and offered employment opportunities immediately upon their arrivals (129). The entrance of the Yugoslavs was expedited under the family reunification program, and those who were registered as refugee claimants were speedily granted Convention Refugee status (129,130). Yet this type of Canadian hospitality was not - and is not, argues Ighodaro - bestowed on equally needy Africans who are “… deemed inferior compared to other migrants in the minds of immigration officials” (49). Readers of this book come to understand that Africans in need of protection are systematically disadvantaged since they have limited access to Canadian immigration offices where they are required to make refugee claims. Few offices operate in Africa, and the ones that exist are situation in select countries. This means, to take an example, that a single woman in peril in Khartoum, Sudan must make the treacherous 1,612km trek and apply for Canadian resettlement in Cairo, Egypt. In Cairo, her processing period may take two to seven years compared to other regions of the world where processing times range from three months to two years (53). This grim reality represents an informal yet effective policy of “containment” of potential African refugees. Refugee immigration policy then, while it looks admirable on paper, is racist and xenophobic in reality. The main academic contribution of the book is found in chapters 5 and 10. In chapter 5, readers are introduced to an often ignored topic: forced and voluntary repatriation among refugees. This chapter succeeds in answering the question: what motivates refugees who are already in a safe host country to engage in self-repatriation, even if it may entail confronting once again the life-threatening condition from which the fled? A crucial determinant is their experiences in the host countries. As Ighodaro writes, “it is only because life in their host countries is so horrible that many refugees repatriate, despite the horrific and dangerous condition they know they will face there” (89). While this book breaks new ground by putting a microscope on the African newcomer experiences, it has a number of shortcomings. The anger and disappointment Ighodaro reveals about the African refugees’ situation comes across strongly, and at times it makes him too emotionally-charged to offer an adequate analysis. To speak of “neighborhood imprisonment” and “economic genocide” in Canada arguably equates Canada - with its relatively humanitarian refugee system - to that of South Africa’s apartheid. The word “genocide” ought to be used more cautiously for it does not characterize the situation of African newcomers in Canada. The claims in this book are rarely corroborated with factual or statistical information. Ighodaro fails to discuss what constitutes “economic genocide” and “neighborhood imprisonment.” When he asserts that the government of Nova Scotia is “all White” (28), readers are left to wonder where this claim originated. Furthermore, Ighodaro’s small sample size - based on eighteen qualitative interviews - poses significant problems for his ability to generalize patterns for the whole of Canada, where immigration and settlement dynamics yield different results. These shortcomings aside, Living the Experience offers an interesting glimpse into the situation of an often neglected group of newcomers to Canada - African refugees. The incorporation of the authentic voices and opinions from refugees themselves and those working with them makes reading this book a challenging experience. We learn of the real-life experiences of this group of newcomers, including the discrimination they experiences in trying to gain entrance to (and resettle) in Canada. This book serves as a provocative tool for students, academics, immigration officials, and social service providers whose interest in the plight of African refugees falls within and beyond the academic realm. Lucia Madariaga - Vignudo Department of Political Science, McGill University Canadian Ethic Studies, Volume 39. No. 3, 2007.