Integrate into Quebec: the case of the Rohingyas

rahima-begum-entouree-filles-roksana(Quebec) The debate on migrant from Syria and the prospect of welcoming many in Quebec made us think about the mechanics of integration. We looked for examples. Have retained the Rohingya, a Muslim minority native to Burma. One hundred and sixty refugees received between late 2008 and 2010. Of these, 25 families remained. A significant number and enough perspective to risk a first portrait. Initially the stories are alike. The leak of Burma by boat; 15 to 20 years in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The departure to Canada, leaving behind relatives. The arrival empty. It is then that the stories take different paths.

She arrived at noon of October 2008 when Quebec was busy taking stock of its 400th.

Single mother, 21 years, two little girls dependents.

She had learned that the day before his departure for Canada that the time had come.

He was given orders not to tell anyone to ensure his safety. At the refugee camp, the neighbors are jealous and sometimes violent towards those who have the privilege to leave.

Rahima Begum was the very first cohort of Rohingya refugees in Quebec City.

Nobody knew until now the existence of the Muslim minority persecuted by the Buddhist majority in Burma who fled to camps in Bangladesh.

This is where the UN High Commissioner took its name, as it draws a lottery ticket. He was offered the chance to rebuild his life. She had to answer on the spot. She said yes, without realizing what was waiting and relying on a vague promise that his parents could join her later.

The road was to follow was laborious and at times discouraging. “I would have been better to stay there”, will say she sometimes.

“Even if I stay 100 years in Quebec, I can not go grocery shopping alone”, she despaired.

Hard to imagine from below. A life of poverty in a camp, illiterate, no training if not having learned to sew. Not a word of English nor French. No idea on the planet where it has landed.

The first weeks in Quebec City, she lived an apple and a banana a day, unable to recognize halal food in what was offered him and unable to request or be understood.

She recounts with amusement refusing water, unable to identify what floating in it (ice).

She did not know what to think people who said hello. Was that an insult or reproach? And smiles at her. Was it mockery?

It will take about two weeks before using a translator to decipher.

The first morning she took the bus to the French courses of the Cégep de Sainte-Foy, she failed to reach the stop signal cord. It went all right, found herself in tears at the terminus of the end of the line.

Throughout the first year, she tore. Sometimes $ 15 in his pocket and 20 days to go before the next welfare check.

She borrowed from neighbors, has often been hungry, unaware that she could find help at the St. Vincent de Paul or elsewhere. But would she knew the language would have prevented ask.

It had its place in public housing after a year and a first work Recycling Vanier where she noted.

She posted on the wall of his living room a merit certificate with a check for $ 1,000 when it hit.

Follow work in a candy factory where she first wraps caramels and treats.

By dint of observing a colleague who has a more complex task, she learned to operate the machine.

When this share colleague, she convinces her boss to test. “It’s great, you’re capable of,” it will be astonished.

The French courses, ill-suited to an illiterate, were not enough to make it comfortable.

When she comes home from work, Rahima receives twice a week a private French teacher. A Chinese convenience store owner who wants to learn to read labels also attend the lessons.

The youngest, Romena, 12, remembers with round eyes like balls of this blessed period when Mom brought sweets in the evening at home. Until the day when the factory closed its doors.

The next job was less convincing. An embroidery business where you had to master a digital machine. “Did not work.”

This is a volunteer of Sainte-Foy, Nicole Lessard, who will once again on a job track.

For two years, Rahima works at Step in the industrial park, which manufactures high-end blade skates for hockey and figure skating.

Here too, it will convince his boss to give him a job for which she did not seem qualified.

“I can try once. Give me a chance, “she insists. It compensates for its shortcomings by reading his memory and powers of observation. Even happens to recognize faults in the material submitted to it. The boss is happy. The also used.


I spent part of the afternoon with Rahima Begum this week and two daughters in the family home HLM Mary of the Incarnation. I found radiant.

There were on the table a fresh fruit plate and on the walls, colored plastic garlands of flowers and a photograph of Niagara Falls.

Romena would become a police officer. “Or a professional soccer player. Or Prof of Educ. “Ideas are buzzing and the horizon is wide.

Her older sister prefer to keep the “secret” of what it intends to do later not to attract bad luck, she says. When they are together, the girls speak French.

Rahima got a temporary driver’s license and hopes to one day buy a car.

She especially wants to succeed his oral citizenship test that would allow him to obtain a passport and visit his parents in Bangladesh. If successful, his daughters also become citizens. “It’s cool,” says Roksana.

Begum is not her real last name. This is the man who was assigned to the camp, his was considered too long. It is resigned to it. She was not going to pay $ 150, a fortune at the camp, to keep its name. You have to choose your battles.


For five years, Rahima Begum no longer receiving social assistance pay their rent. She works 40 hours a week and managed to reimburse the state $ 8,000 for flights and expenses to come to Canada.

She now sends money to her parents and sent them secretly a cell through which it sometimes to join. It puts money aside for the day she will manage to bring them.

She still phone to Nicole when she fails to fulfill its forms or to make appointments; is necessary for the men Dragging work.

It restores to the next, is involved in the HLM committee that welcomes newcomers.

Since she fell the first time, it was riskier to ice skating, but has learned to go cycling and bake bread, cookies and cakes. The lasagna and pizza were added to the family menu of Indian cuisine. She says “love the snow, but not cold.” Like everybody.

“Life is beautiful,” she says, convinced today of being ‘arrival in the best possible location. ”


This is rereading my notes that the reality hit me. A mother of 28 years with a 15 year old girl and another 12.

Rahima Begum was still a child when she had her own, in the refugee camp.

Nothing exceptional in a religious culture in which it is the parents who decide the husband and the time of marriage.

She did not deny these traditions, even if it displays a confidence and an autonomy that clash with the discretion of the women in her community.

She frequents little else except at weddings and big parties are not always comfortable, and lack of time.

But religion is “important.” She goes to the mosque, and as his daughter wear the veil outside the house. Scarves in bright colors like spices.

The youngest, a sport whose wavy black hair to the bottom of the back, chose not to wear the veil.

Mom did not take offense. His daughter is free, she said. But there is a limit. Rahima “would accept” no one of his daughters married a Catholic man or another religion.

It is not a bearded husband or community control him. It’s his choice to it.

She disown her daughter if it transgressed the tradition? That’s what I say now, she answers in a reassuring laugh.


The golf Rahima Begum in Quebec is quite exemplary.

It often takes the second generation to see a genuine integration. Especially when the host society is so different from that left her.

From nothing, Rahima it has reached in less than seven years. She probably due to its status as single.

His testimony, touching and without complacency, recalls the difficulties facing newcomers. But it also shows that it is possible to aspire to a good life.

The Stopru