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Underclass: even in countries that traditionally have welcomed immigrants, newcomers often are underprivileged and live isolated lives of hardship.

Language has often been a barrier to full participation in Canadian life. After the Second World War many immigrants came to Canada from Italy. They lived in Italian-speaking communities in Canada and lots of them were able to get by quite well without learning a single word of English or French. But, Italians were European and Christian and so fitted in with mainstream Canada.

Now, there are cultural and religious barriers as well as linguistic. The results can be catastrophic.

In France, for example, in October 2005 there were some fiery riots by immigrants who are tired of being treated as a permanent underclass. The riots started in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb of Paris, after two teenagers were electrocuted trying to hide from police in an electricity substation. Three weeks of violence swept across the country following the tragedy. About 10,000 vehicles were burned, 255 schools, 233 public buildings, and 51 post offices were attacked, 140 public-transport vehicles were stoned, and 4,770 people were arrested, according to the French newspaper Le Monde.

Clichy-sous-Bois is an area where 35 percent of the population is not ethnically French, and unemployment is 24 percent (compared with 10 percent nationally). Among young people unemployment is a staggering 40 percent in the poverty stricken suburb (compared with 23 percent on average). Residents say they need better public transportation into Paris, a new community centre, and renovations to public housing which is described as rundown and overcrowded. But, despite government promises after the riots to improve housing, schools, employment, and job-training programs, locals say nothing had changed a year later.

The French model of integration did not promote multiculturalism. It maintains the country is blind to colour, so it doesn't publish statistics on the ethnic origin of citizens. Instead it emphasized the common rights of all citizens under the law. The government intended to encourage immigrants to France to blend in with the hope that the country could avoid having them cluster in ethnic ghettoes. Nevertheless, there are millions of Muslims from North and sub-Saharan Africa living in suburban enclaves where unemployment, crime, and despair are the norm. They are considered equal under the law but they still are treated as outsiders. Critics point out that in France the reality is that many are treated as second-class citizens, given inexperienced teachers in ghetto schools, substandard housing, and little access to jobs.

As Manuel Valls, mayor of Evry and a socialist member of parliament put it, the unrest was a result "of 30 years of ethnic and social segregation (and) the bankruptcy of the model of integration: in France, our social elevator is blocked." There are no minorities in the French parliament for example, and the police force is almost exclusively white.

The Economist pointed out in November 2005 that "nobody doubts that the real roots of the trouble lie in the social and economic alienation of the largely Muslim population that has for two generations been isolated in the grim [slums] around so many French cities."

According to one report, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has long proposed affirmative action programs to give minorities more advantages in schools and jobs. While he is a lone voice in government circles, a majority (57 percent) of French people agree with him. (Mr. Sarkozy however was widely criticized for calling the rioters "scum" and for introducing tough policing methods in 2002, which left young minorities feeling victimized.)

Immigrants report also feeling unwelcome in Germany which is blamed on flawed immigration, education, and labour-market policies. While Germany has not experienced the same degree of violence as France, many second-generation immigrants have trouble finding a job, and live in poverty. At 26 percent, unemployment for immigrants is double the national average. And more Germans have a negative view of immigrants. A recent university study found that 61 percent of Germans agree that "there are too many foreigners living in Germany," up from 55 percent in 2002. In response, the government has established a new immigration law to promote integration through language classes for starters.

Canada too has its share of desperate immigrants. Many feel alienated culturally and socially and live in financial distress as well. Some cultural practices within immigrant communities isolate women in particular who may have been part of strong social networks of extended families and friends in their countries of origin. But, they are shut out of mainstream society when they arrive in Canada, sometimes stuck in the isolation of suburbia.

A recent study concludes that Canadian social policy is undermining the success of newcomers to this country. It hampers their access to employment and vital services and creates a web of discrimination that makes it harder for immigrants to settle here. The report was written for Community Foundations of Canada and the Law Commission of Canada. It found that some immigrants feel they are worse off here than they were in their homelands. Unsettled: Legal and Policy Barriers for Newcomers to Canada was released in July 2006. It says that while more recent newcomers are better educated, they have a harder time finding jobs, reuniting with their families, and getting language training, proper housing and even health services.

According to a 2006 Statistics Canada study, one in six young, highly educated male immigrants leaves Canada within a year because of the poor job market. Governments are starting to pay more attention to the problems. The federal Conservatives' first budget (2006) included funds for the creation of an agency to help foreign professionals integrate into the workforce. The Ontario government also announced a $14 million investment in programs to help foreign-trained professionals and trades people upgrade their skills and training. But, family reunification remains a major obstacle with some families waiting as much as a decade to bring in parents and grandparents.


Federal funds to teach English and French as second languages have not increased since 1996.


Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) is the national membership organization for the 155 community foundations in cities, towns, and rural areas across the country.


Community foundations across the country are working to help make newcomers more welcome.

"We know that regardless of where policy barriers originate--at the federal or provincial level--immigrants experience their problems as community problems. We believe our community foundation can be part of their solution," says Faye Wightman, President and CEO of Vancouver Foundation, which has committed to making immigration issues a top funding priority.

Other foundations working on programs that address settlement barriers include:

* The Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation was one of the earliest funders of Waterloo Region Immigrant Employment Network (WRIEN), in the community-wide effort to attract, support, and recognize immigrant talent;

* The Calgary Foundation's Immigrant Access Fund (IAF) provides loans of up ,$5,000 to fund an accreditation process that allows immigrants to work where they are most needed. The funding supports study and examination fees, or short-term upgrading to enter their chosen field in some capacity, and continue building on their qualifications;

* The Hamilton Community Foundation's support of "Facilitating Inclusion for Women," provides leadership training opportunities for women of underrepresented ethnic the program offers 12 weeks of part-time, in-class skills training, followed by community development projects. Graduates of the program assume leadership roles and paid employment in the community.


1. A 2005 article in The Economist compared the riots in France to similar problems in the early 1980s in Brixton and Toxteth, in England, commenting that "a tough, locally unaccountable police force that routinely harasses people from ethnic minorities can easily foster a climate in which seemingly minor incidents lead to mass outbreaks of violence ... To reduce the risk of more riots in future, France needs to try more of a neighbourhood-based approach to policing. It should also work harder at recruiting more police from ethnic minorities." Research the British experience and how it was resolved.

2. While France chose to be officially "colour-blind" in an attempt to blend immigrants into French society, Canada chose to encourage multiculturalism. In addition to multicultural programs that celebrate diversity, in 1997, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation was established to 'foster racial harmony and cross-cultural understanding and help to eliminate racism." The Toronto-based Foundation, was initially funded by a one-time endowment of $24 million from the federal government and has since operated on income from investments, donations, and fundraising. Do a report on the activities of the Foundation across the country.

3. Review A Canada for All: Canada's Action Plan Against Racism--An Overview published by the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2005 (


Community Foundations of Canada--

Canadian Race Relations Foundation--
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Title Annotation:CITIZEN--BARRIERS
Publication:Canada and the World Backgrounder
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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