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TEDx — Hon. Ahmed Hussen entered Canada a child refugee, and today is Minister of Immigration and Refugees. He shares his experience of Canada: a country of immense generosity, but also one that struggles with systemic racism, and paints a bold picture of how a country can become truly great.

Ahmed Hussen is Canada’s Immigration Minister and Member of Parliament for the riding of York South-Weston. A lawyer and social activist, he has a proven track record of leadership and community empowerment.

Born and raised in Somalia, Ahmed immigrated to Canada in 1993; In 2002, he co-founded the Regent Park Community Council, which helped secure a $500 million revitalization project for the area, and he has been widely recognized for his significant contributions to the city of Toronto.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Canada

Canada’s immigration minister warns against illegal crossings at Minnesota’s northern border

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Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, arrived in Minnesota just days after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand for now new travel restrictions for eight countries, including Somalia — the land a teenage Hussen fled with his family.

But even as he has come to symbolize for some the divergent immigration philosophies on either side of the U.S.-Canada border, Hussen shuns criticism of the Trump administration’s approach. In fact, he was in the Twin Cities this week in part to discourage a spike in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada this year that has tested the country’s famously welcoming attitude.

“We are huge fans of immigration, but we want people to immigrate through the regular channels,” he said.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Hussen touted Canada’s measured approach, including a gradual increase in immigration planned over the next three years.

He met with resettlement agency staff and other advocates, plugging a unique Canadian program in which private citizens and churches sponsor some refugees.

Members of the local Somali community, where he enjoys rock star status, threw him a welcoming reception in Minneapolis.

“He is an icon,” said Mohamed Ahmed, a local community leader and Bush Foundation fellow. “People see him as an example of what is possible in the West.”

The first Somali-Canadian elected to parliament and appointed as minister, Hussen was 16 when he arrived alone in Toronto, where older brothers had resettled earlier. He has spoken of finding a sense of belonging on his high school track team and of enduring a two-hour commute as he worked at a gas station to save money for college.

He got a law degree from the University of Ottawa and practiced criminal and immigration law. Once a receptionist in an opposition politician’s office, he was elected to parliament in 2015. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped him to lead the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

“I am a big champion of our immigration system because I have been through it,” said Hussen, whose visit to Minneapolis was his third to the United States since becoming minister.

In the media, Hussen is often cast as an emblem of Canada’s stance against anti-immigration sentiments sweeping the United States and Europe. But he is unfailingly diplomatic about the differences between the Canadian and American approaches, saying only he has a good working relationship with counterparts on this side of the border. And, he stresses, Canada is by no means unified in support of more immigration.

A recent rise in illegal border crossings into Canada has triggered pushback from conservative politicians there and concerns from border communities such as the Manitoba city of Emerson, unsettled and overwhelmed by the arrivals. In Manitoba, many of those arrivals have been Somalis who had unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the United States. Now, Hussen and some Canadian lawmakers are reaching out to immigrant communities to highlight that border crossers undergo rigorous screening and face deportation if their asylum claims fall short.

“We don’t want people uprooting their lives based on false information,” Hussen said. “Crossing the border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada.”

Ahmed said word in the local Somali community remains that Canada offers a much gentler welcome to those arriving at its border with asylum claims. He spoke of a friend, a permanent resident who faced deportation after a criminal conviction, who crossed into Canada this year. Though he doesn’t know yet if he will be granted asylum, the friend reports receiving subsidized housing and free legal help, Ahmed said.

To a packed auditorium at the Humphrey School, Hussen touted a plan the Canadian government released in November that will bring in almost 1 million new immigrants by 2020. About 60 percent will be employment-based immigrants, largely arriving through a merit-based system that awards points for education, language and professional skills, among other factors.

Hussen said doing immigration right requires an investment: The Canadian government is spending $1 billion this year on language classes, help with finding jobs and other integration efforts. But he said bringing in newcomers is crucial to ward off a looming labor shortage given Canada’s aging population.

“We strongly believe immigration is key to our future success in Canada,” he said.

Hussen also praised a Canadian refugee resettlement system in which, alongside the government’s program, private citizens and organizations commit to supporting refugees for a year.
The country has found these refugees do better easing into Canadian life. Hussen said the United Kingdom and several Latin American countries are modeling new programs on the Canadian approach, though he hasn’t yet fielded inquiries from the United States.

Hussen said with more refugees displaced globally than ever before in modern history, Canada plans to remain a key player in resettlement: “More people are on the move, and we can’t turn our heads away.”

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Briefing Room

Somali man found guilty in kidnapping of Canadian journalist

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FILE PHOTO: Somali national Ali Omar Ader arrested for 2008 hostage-taking in Somalia of two freelance journalists, Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan, is seen in an undated photo from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Courtesy RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

REUTERS — A Somali national has been convicted in an Ontario court for his role in the 2008 kidnapping of Canadian Amanda Lindhout, who was held captive in Somalia for 460 days and released only after her family paid a ransom, Canadian media reported on Wednesday.
Ali Omar Ader, 40, was found guilty of one charge of hostage-taking for his role as negotiator for the kidnappers, in a decision handed down on Wednesday in Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa.

Lindhout, a freelance journalist, was taken hostage in Somalia on Aug. 23, 2008, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, while working on a story. They were released for ransom in November 2009.

Ader was lured to Canada from Somalia in 2015 and arrested in Ottawa as part of a sting operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in which an officer posed as a publisher interested in a book Ader was writing on Somalia, according to court documents.

Prosecutors argued that Ader had been the main spokesman for the hostage-takers, negotiating first with Lindhout’s mother and later with a private consultant hired by the families of Lindhout and Brennan.
According to court documents, he referred to himself as “a commander” and repeatedly threatened that the hostages would be harmed or killed unless the ransom was paid.

During his trial, Ader said that he too had been kidnapped by the group holding Lindhout captive, and was forced to act as their spokesman, as he spoke some English.

In his ruling, Justice Robert Smith said Ader’s claims were “completely unbelievable,” numerous Canadian media outlets reported. Reuters has not read the ruling.

Ader faces up to life in prison. Sentencing in the case is not expected until next year.

Lindhout has said she was repeatedly sexually and physically assaulted during her captivity, and both she and Brennan have said they were tortured and starved.

In 2013, Lindhout recounted her experience in the book “A House in the Sky.”

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‘He helped so many people’: Beloved Edmonton sheikh laid to rest

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My father would be the 911, people would call him first,’ says Sheikh Osman Barre’s daughter

A much loved cleric in Edmonton’s Somali community is being remembered as an inspiring leader who helped countless people across Canada and in Somalia.

Sheikh Osman Barre, 71, died unexpectedly this week. On Friday, an estimated 2,500 women, men and youth packed Al Rashid Mosque during Friday prayer to pay their respects.

“He was an amazing father and role model,” said his daughter, Saida Barre, 31. “It’s amazing what he’s done and who he was and how he left — it touches all of our hearts.”

“He helped so many people along the way. This was his life. And I was so happy to see all the people who came to show respect and appreciation for my father,” she added.

Connection to community ran deep for Barre. He officiated at weddings and prepared funerals. He supported refugee families and households in crisis.

“My father would be the 911, people would call him first,” said Saida, the second youngest of six children.
Taught youth, counselled young inmates

Barre’s work with youth stretches back decades. He taught Islamic studies in Edmonton, and previously in British Columbia and Ottawa. He counselled young inmates and helped them reintegrate.

Overseas, people with disabilities received wheelchairs and deaf children went to school, thanks to Barre’s efforts. More recently, the grandfather of six began building a school for orphans in Qardho, Puntland, near the village where he grew up.

“I feel like he’s left something for us,” Saida Barre said. “Going forward we want to be able to dedicate this to our father.”

Family members are not the only ones inspired to continue his legacy.

Community advocate Habiba Abdulle connected with Barre through work supporting young offenders.

“He gave a lot of youth empowerment,” Abdulle said. “He was the person people turned to when they are in the dark.”

The list of praise for her mentor and friend is lengthy and heartfelt: wise, generous and humble. He approached situations with an open heart and mind and found solutions to problems, she said.

“He was a person that everybody went to,” Abdulle said. “He would just give you his absolute attention and words of encouragement.”

It was that kind of encouragement that gave Abdulle the strength to keep going when she sought Barre’s guidance through tough times. He reminded her to stay positive, and that helping others makes you strong.
“When you are strong, they’re going to be strong as well,” she recalled him saying.

Barre discovered his own strength early on. He grew up poor in a small village near Bosaso, Puntland. Losing his father young, he was raised by a blind mother who was “such a fighter,” Saida Osman said.

As a teenager, Barre’s mother instilled in him the value of education, but more importantly that faith comes first before anything.

“That’s what saved him,” his daughter said.

The future hurdles would be many: civil war, immigrating to a new country.

Undeterred, Barre pursued a bachelor of arts in Islamic Studies, and then later his masters degree.

“He has been exposed to so many things in his life, but he’s always kept such a positive spirit.” Saida said, recalling a home filled with books, and the wisdom he passed on to them.

Money was tight, but there was always enough to help someone in need.

“He would always remind us of how blessed we are and how the little things we had growing up were enough,” she said. “Because the love that we got from my father, as well as my mother, was enough.”

On Friday, as community members prepared to lay to rest Sheikh Osman Barre, it wasn’t hard to spot evidence of his life’s work blooming in the next generation.

“He was someone you could look up to,” Amein Kassim, 15, said of his former mo’alin, which means “teacher” in Somali.

“He would always be there for you.” It’s a example Kassim, who plans to study criminal law, is keen to continue.

“We can continue his legacy by making the right decisions and not making mistakes that he taught us not to, and chose the right path and put forth our education,” he said

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