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Welcome to Canada: Vietnamese refugees arrive

The Story

In July 1979, flights full of refugees start arriving in Canada every three days. Two staging areas are set up at military barracks near Edmonton and Montreal. There the refugees will be processed; filling in paperwork, undergoing a medical exam and receiving a crash course on Canadian culture. Sally Caudwell reports on the first flight of refugees arriving from Hong Kong at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. The private sponsorship program disperses refugees across the country, although many eventually migrate to the larger centres of Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Many refugees can hardly speak a word of English or French. Nonetheless, government-sponsored refugees are turned loose with little more than a city map and a lecture on how to get around on the transit system. Private sponsors, on the other hand, have pledged emotional support and advice. Orientation lectures like the ones at Operation Lifeline's Welcome House are designed to fill in the gaps. They provide an introduction to the Canadian postal system, Canadian money, opening a bank account and English language basics. With these skills in hand, refugees go forth to make a new life -- to find a job, a place to live, a school for their children.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: July 29, 1979
Guests: Ron Atkey, Margot Feiguth, Ira Ludvick
Host: Bronwyn Drainie
Reporter: Sally Caudwell
Duration: 7:10

Did You know?

• Initially, the refugees settled across Canada: 23,000 in Ontario; 13,000 in Quebec; 8,000 in Alberta; 7,000 British Columbia; 5,000 in Manitoba; 3,000 in Saskatchewan; and 2,000 in the Maritime provinces.

• The cost to the federal government was $122 million. That included airline tickets, setting up and manning the staging areas, relocating refugees, medical insurance bills, rent guarantees, job and language training and paying community orientation workers.

• The refugees signed a form agreeing to pay the government $750 per person for the cost of their flight to Canada. However, most refugees were unable to read the forms they were signing and were surprised to discover they were in debt.

• Debt repayment took some time. Many refugees had lost all their worldly possessions and were unable to find skilled work in their former professions.

• Ontario's health insurance plan wouldn't cover medical costs for the refugees during their first month in Canada. Mount Sinai and Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto offered free medical care. The service was organized by Dr. Allan Adelman, head of cardiology at Mount Sinai, and brother of Howard Adelman, Operation Lifeline's founder.


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