Hire a Refugee founder calls on political leaders to fight racism after hateful Facebook posts

Hire a Refugee, a local non-profit group, is asking Manitoba's premier, along with leadership candidates for the NDP and Liberal party, to come up with a concrete plan to fight racism after it says its seen more racist comments on its Facebook page.

Omar Rahimi says recent postings on the group's Facebook page are sad and hurtful

Omar Rahimi, who started the website Hire a Refugee, is happy to be living and working in Canada. But he said he's saddened by a spike in hateful comments he's seen on the group's Facebook page. (CBC)

Omar Rahimi paints the detailed trim on the third story of a posh bed and breakfast on West Gate in Winnipeg. The historic home is weathered with character and beauty. For Rahimi, it is a reflection of his own struggle since he came to Canada as a refugee 17 years ago.

He is grateful to Canada for giving him a new life, and the chance to pay it forward with other newcomers after starting up his own company.

But he's saddened by a recent spike in racist comments on the Facebook page for Hire a Refugee, a non-profit organization he runs.

"I shake my head. I can't believe these comments. Two nice ones and then a really bad one. It's really hurtful. Maybe someone gets mad and they don't realize how hurtful it is," Rahimi said.

The founder of the Winnipeg website Hire a Refugee said he's saddened by a spike in racist and hateful messages he's seen recently on the group's Facebook page. (Hire A Refugee/Facebook)
"Syria is all torn apart. There is no more country. Iraq is at war. They say 'go back to your country,' but we don't have a country to go back to if you really think about it," said Rahimi.

He believes the spike in hateful comments he's seen is a spillover from the recent Charlottesville riots in the United States.

Rahimi now considers Canada his home country. He was born in a Kurdish refugee camp in western Iraq in 1983, but doesn't know the exact date. Some of his family members had been shot. He came to Winnipeg in 2005 and re-united with his wife here a few years later.

"Life was very hard — learning English, going to school, working overnight and then back at school during the day."

Rahimi has hired dozens of refugees through his company, Beautiful Canada Painting. Through Hire a Refugee, he connects newcomers who speak little or no English with odd jobs to earn money while they try to settle their families in Winnipeg.

'They do want to work'

"People make very rude comments that these people don't want to work. Don't assume. They do want to work. They are willing to pick weeds for a day, cut grass, shovel snow, move gravel and dirt," Rahimi said.

He said the jobs are important to many of the refugees he works with.

"A 25-year-old woman from Jordan who lost all her family couldn't make ends meet with $600 a month. That went for the rent. She called me crying to get some work. Now she is pulling weeds and has money for food," said Rahimi.

But Rahimi also hears from refugees who don't know how to respond to racism they are experiencing.

"They say, 'Omar, I was just driving and somebody told me go back to my country.' Or, 'My mom was in Superstore and someone yelled at her. Just from nowhere,'" he said.

"It's unbelievable right now." 

Rahimi said there are many positive comments and overwhelming suppport from Winnipeggers on the Facebook page. But it is the few negative ones that seem to stick and run deep.

Manitoba politicians respond

His group is calling on the premier, and leadership hopefuls for the Liberals and NDP, to make meaningful steps to deal with the issue of racism and hateful attacks on immigrants in Manitoba. So far, he said, none of them have.

CBC contacted the premier's office and the leadership candidates for the other two parties for their comments.

"Manitobans have no tolerance for the kind of hateful, racist acts that have unfortunately occurred recently in Winnipeg, Charlottesville and around the world," Premier Brian Pallister said in a statement to CBC.

"Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to organizations offering direct servces to newcomers, including for employment and labour market support."

"Those [Facebook] comments are shameful," said NDP leadership candidate Wab Kinew.

"As an Indigenous man, I've experienced racism first-hand, and I know the pain it causes. To all immigrants and refugees, I want to say loud and clear that you are welcome here, and that I will stand by your side and fight for your right to a good life here in Manitoba."

Kinew said he reached out to leaders in the Jewish community after reports of anti-semitic graffiti in Winnipeg in August.

"I've dedicated my adult life to furthering the cause of reconciliation, and building connections between Indigenous people and the newcomer, Punjabi, and Indo-Canadian communities. All of us should work together to build empathy and understanding between communities," he said.

CBC is still waiting for a response from the Liberal leadership candidates and NDP leadership candidate Steve Ashton.

As for Rahimi, he doesn't know if publicly outing those who are making the racist comments would be part of the solution.

"I am not sure. I don't want to make the problem bigger. I feel bad for them too because they don't understand. Don't call people 'terrorist' when we are also running from terrorism," he said.

"I don't want to blame anyone. I just want them to sit down and talk with me. Get to see who I am, who they are. Let's see how we can help each other in this wonderful country."