Review: Strangers at the gate: the Boat People's first ten years in Canada

Morton Beiser; Reviewed Chris Hendry

By Chris Hendry (reviewer)

An engaging and informative read, the book traces the history of Canadian refugee and immigration policy since Confederation. It captures such lows as Charles H. Blair's infamous comment "None is too many," in 1939, regarding how many Jewish refugees from Hitler's Germany Canada should admit, and highs like Canada receiving the U.N.'s Nansen Award in 1986 for our humanitarianism.

The book details a 10-year longitudinal study of mental health issues of a representative sample of the 60,000 boat people admitted as refugees from 1979 to 1981. It aims to inform public debate, contribute to a growing literature on human resiliency, and distill policy and practice implications from the findings.

The book presents an intricate web of experience and expectation that is the story of each refugee. Becoming a well-adjusted, mentally stable individual depends not only on one's experience in the host nation, but on one's experiences before finding refuge.

Spatial constraints negate a thorough analysis of Beiser's findings, but the impact and scope of the book are impressive. From '81 to '91, the unemployment rate amongst the studied population fell to 8% - lower than the national average at the time. Menial jobs, as then, are still plentiful as they are unattractive to the native population. Those who do find work are more likely to have increased levels of mental health and better English skills. In time, as they become accustomed to their new surroundings and are able to communicate more effectively, refugees seek better work. Only then do they find themselves victims of racism as they compete with the native population for the better jobs.

Our greatest challenge, it seems, lies not with deciding how many we allow in, but with what quality of life we receive them.

Reviewed by Chris Hendry, an associate editor of Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine Winter 2000

Peace Magazine Winter 2000, page 30. Some rights reserved.

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