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Some Quebec colleges say Ottawa denies 80 to 90 per cent of study permits from Africa

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MONTREAL — Some Quebec junior colleges say 80 to 90 per cent of the international students they’ve accepted from Africa are being refused study permits by the federal government, jeopardizing their ability to offer programs and raising questions about bias in the immigration system.

At the CEGEP de la Gaspésie et des Îles, in eastern Quebec, only two of 19 students from Africa who were accepted to the school and requested permits were able to secure one, according to its general manager. At Collège d’Alma, in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, 20 students out of 139 got permits.

Representatives of both colleges say that, in comparison, virtually every student who applies from France is accepted.

Yolaine Arseneau, the manager of the Gaspé junior college, says the number amounts to an 89 per cent refusal rate for African students. “We find that enormous,” she said.

In a phone interview, she said the situation is frustrating for the college, which goes to great lengths to recruit international students, only to have efforts fall flat. Not to mention the impact on the students themselves.

“It must be very discouraging for them,” she said.

Frédéric Tremblay, the communications head at Alma College, says there appears to be a “distortion” between the federal government and the province — particularly in regions outside greater Montreal, which are faced with an aging population and a labour shortage.

He said the main reason given for refusing study permits is that authorities don’t believe the applicant will return home after studying — even as the province hopes to retain them. “It’s advantageous for Quebec to go find students who already speak French and who we can train here to keep them in the workforce,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, students are refused on the basis of not having the financial means to support themselves — even if they’ve been awarded full scholarships.

The refusal of permits for students coming from Africa is nothing new, and it is an issue at all educational levels and in all provinces, said Francis Brown Mastropaolo, the director of international affairs for Quebec’s federation of CEGEPs. But he said Quebec junior colleges and their prospective students are hit the hardest.

Rejection rates vary by country, he said, and some of the highest are in French-speaking African countries where Quebec seeks immigrants, such as Algeria and Congo. At the same time, rejection rates tend to go down with higher levels of study, meaning refusals at the college level are higher than those for master’s and PhD candidates, he said.

Overall, he estimates that 80 per cent of junior college study permits from French-speaking Africa are rejected by the federal government, compared with 30 to 35 per cent for students from India and 20 per cent from China.

He said the colleges that are affected the most are those in Quebec’s outlying regions, which have low enrolment and need the boost from international students to be able to maintain programs.

“Sometimes having three, four, five international students allows us to start the program for a three-year cycle, and consequently there is more access for local students,” he said.

Arseneau believes more French-speaking international students provides both a potential future workforce and help to ensure the survival of programs to benefit locals. In addition, students from varied backgrounds improve the student experience through “intercultural exchange,” she added.

While the college representatives can’t say for sure whether racial bias is a factor in the differing acceptance rates, they say it’s at least a possibility — something even the federal government acknowledges.

Brown Mastropaolo was one of many experts who testified when the House of Commons committee on citizenship and immigration began studying the issue in February.

The committee produced a report with 35 recommendations, including more transparency on reasons for refusal, regulating recruitment agencies to safeguard against fraud and working with schools and provinces to reduce misunderstandings that can lead to refusals.

It also called on the federal government to clarify the rules to ensure that a student’s request isn’t jeopardized because they eventually want to settle in Canada.

In a response tabled Sept. 28, the federal government acknowledged the issues that were raised.

“While all applications are assessed against the same criteria, regardless of an applicant’s country of origin, the department recognizes that the impacts of historical racism and discrimination extend to Canada’s immigration system,” wrote Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“While approval rates for study permit applications for those intending to study in Quebec are similar to those destined to other provinces, more work is required within the department to understand the differences in study permit approval rates between Africa and other regions.”

In its 20-page response, the government committed to working with the Quebec government on study permits. It also agreed to work on providing better information on its application process, increasing training and resources for its personnel and reviewing the way it assesses candidates, including ensuring that those who may eventually want to immigrate to Canada aren’t punished.

Brown Mastropaolo said that after years of work, it’s “encouraging” to see the federal government finally acknowledging the long-standing problems in the system. “Now, what we want to see are results,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Manitoba First Nation says members lack health care due to nursing shortage

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WINNIPEG – Members of a northern First Nation looking to get prescriptions refilled, blood work done or access to other basic health-care services are often being turned away because of a nursing shortage in the community.

The nursing station in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has been open only for medical emergencies for nearly a year because the community has just two nurses to treat its 3,500 citizens.

“We cannot continue with the current state of affairs,” Chief Angela Levasseur said at a press conference on Monday.

“Our people have a right to health care. They have the right to be able to attend the nursing station and be seen by a nurse.

“It is inhumane and an affront to our dignity.”

Levasseur has heard reports of nurses working around the clock while running on two to three hours of sleep. On occasion, a third nurse has been brought in to help alleviate some of the pressure.

The reduction of services has resulted in patients, including infants, elders and people with chronic health conditions, being denied critical medical care, said Levasseur. Many of these patients are being directed to go to the hospital in Thompson, about 90 kilometres away.

Residents without a vehicle are forced to rely on an overburdened medical transportation service or go without help.

“The failure to address this crisis is literally a threat to many people’s lives,” said Levasseur.

The community has sent proposals to the federal government to advocate for an increase in funding to hire more nurses and address the wage gap between what it offers nurses and what private agencies provide.

“It’s really disheartening,” said Lynda Wright, the community’s health director. “It’s really difficult to try and help people when you lack the resources and the funding … it’s difficult seeing your people suffer when the access to care is not there.”

Levasseur is renewing calls to provide funding for an additional three nurses for the Nation.

The office of Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Government data shows that nursing stations in remote First Nations communities in Manitoba were facing a 67 per cent operational vacancy in the last fiscal year.

A document tabled in the House of Commons earlier this year says that over the 2023-24 fiscal year, all Indigenous Services Canada-operated nursing stations in Manitoba have run at a reduced capacity due to staffing shortages.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation has felt the staffing crunch, resulting in the community declaring a state of emergency earlier this year.

The community is supposed to have 13 or 14 nurses available, but most days there are about half of that for the roughly 8,000 who live on-reserve.

“We continue to cry out for help to make sure we can provide health services and medical services for our people,” said Chief David Monias, who was on hand for Monday’s press conference.

Levasseur said the community’s situation has left everyone at their “breaking point.”

“What we’re most worried about with this crisis situation being ignored is that the two or three nurses that we have on a day-to-day basis are going to walk out.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Cyprus displays jewelry, early Christian icons and Bronze Age antiquities once looted from island

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Monday put on display artifacts — some of them thousands of years old — that were returned after a Turkish art dealer looted them from the ethnically divided island nation decades ago.

Aydin Dikmen took the artifacts from the country’s breakaway north in the years after Cyprus’ split in 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. The antiquities were kept in Germany after authorities there seized them in 1997, and protracted legal battles secured their repatriation in three batches, the last one this year.

Addressing the unveiling ceremony at Cyprus’ archaeological museum, President Nikos Christodoulides said the destruction of a country’s cultural heritage as evidenced in recent conflicts becomes a “deliberate campaign of cultural and religious cleansing that aims to eliminate identity.”

Among the 60 most recently returned artifacts put on display include jewelry from the Chalcolithic Period between 3500-1500 B.C. and Bronze Age bird-shaped idols.

Antiquities that Dikmen also looted but were returned years ago include 1,500-year-old mosaics of Saints Luke, Mark, Matthew and James. They are among the few examples of early Christian works to survive the Iconoclastic period in the 8th and 9th centuries when most such works were destroyed.

Cyprus’ authorities and the country’s Orthodox Church for decades have been hunting for the island’s looted antiquities and centuries-old relics from as many as 500 churches in open auctions and on the black market.

The museum’s antiquities curator, Eftychia Zachariou, told the ceremony that Cyprus in recent years has benefited from a shift in thinking among authorities in many countries who now opt to repatriate antiquities of dubious provenance.

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Smoke from massive wildfires in Alberta comes with silver lining

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Massive wildfires in Alberta are coughing up clouds of smoke that are obscuring the sky and are hazardous to health.

However, there’s so much smoke that wildfires are being shaded from the sun and daytime temperature highs in some areas are cooler than forecast, leading to reduced fire activity.

“When smoke clears, we can expect to see increased and significant fire behaviour due to anticipated continuing hot, dry weather,” Alberta Wildfire said in an update Monday.

About 7,500 people in Alberta were under evacuation orders.

The three communities that make up Little Red River Cree Nation — John D’Or Prairie, Fox Lake and Garden River — remain under evacuation order as the out-of-control Semo Wildfire Complex burns nearby. It’s estimated to be more than 960 square kilometres in size.

“The next 48 hours is pretty critical,” Chief Conroy Sewepagaham said in a video update on Facebook.

“The dozer groups are going to be working 24-7. They’re going to do whatever they can to extend Highway 58 towards High Level, and extending the northern portion of the highway going into Garden River.”

Alberta Wildfire said the nearby blaze had reached Highway 58, the only road out of Garden River, and was 13 kilometres northwest of the community itself as of Monday afternoon.

Residents of the northern communities of Chipewyan Lake and Janvier 194 have also been ordered to leave.

More than 160 wildfires are burning across Alberta.

Environment Canada said cooler temperatures were expected to start moving into northwestern parts of the province starting Monday night, though hot conditions may persist through much of the week farther south.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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