In July last year, I spent a long weekend at Malá Fatra National Park and on a very hot day, chose a trail that descended to Šútovský vodopád. The way back was a steep climb. On the way, I met Jozef from Terchová who works as an industrial plumber in Germany. We agreed on the bad choice of hiking route in 35 degree weather. He told me how hard it is to live away from his family. And we disagreed on immigration and Slovakia’s response to the migrant crisis in Europe: “I work in Germany to earn a decent salary,” he said, “and now we have to pay for the refugees flooding into Europe.”
Jozef ran through arguments I have heard a hundred times already: Slovak salaries are below average, pensions are miniscule, migrants seek economic advantages.
“Slovaks did not create the problem so why should Slovaks solve the problem?” he asked.
I know this is a sensitive and difficult issue in Slovakia. Joining the EU meant closer alignment with Western Europe, better salaries, investment, and infrastructure. When Slovaks voted for EU membership, no one mentioned providing housing and food for migrants.
Normally I don’t debate this issue, but the sun was still shining and the climb ahead was daunting, so we sat down on tree stumps, exchanged granola bars, pulled fruit out of our backpacks, and I shared my point of view.
Canada is a land of immigrants, I started. We are used to welcoming immigrants and my experience growing up was in a multicultural environment.
In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt an official policy on multiculturalism. By so doing, Canada recognized that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of our heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in shaping the nation’s future. Canada’s approach to multiculturalism ensures that all Canadians are free to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage. The value and dignity of all Canadians is protected by promoting the full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins and the elimination of any barriers to their participation. This helps to ensure that all citizens can have a sense of pride and belonging to Canada. Canada’s successful approach to multiculturalism continues to encourage racial and ethnic harmony and cross-cultural understanding.
Mutual respect helps develop common attitudes. Through multiculturalism, Canada recognizes the potential of all Canadians, encouraging them to take an active part in its social, cultural, economic and political affairs. All Canadians are guaranteed equality before the law and equality of opportunity regardless of their origins. All of these rights and freedoms are guaranteed through Canadian citizenship, the Canadian Constitution, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We believe that our diversity is a national asset. Recent advances in technology have made international communications more important than ever. Canadians who speak many languages and understand many cultures make it easier for Canada to participate globally in areas of education, trade and diplomacy.
Immigrants to Canada are selected from hundreds of thousands of applicants from all over the world. Family reunification and refugee protection are also important parts of the Canadian immigration system. Canadians are not having as many babies as they used to, as is also the case in Slovakia. Therefore, immigration is needed to sustain economic growth. All applicants go through security screening and health checks which help protect everyone within our borders.
Canadians do not expect immigrants to look and act alike. Immigrants are free to wear the style of dress, eat the food, and drink the drinks of their native land. Some drink beer, some drink wine and 64,000 Canadians of Slovak origin may still prefer slivovica. Most practice the religion, dances, and wedding traditions as in their native land. For Canada, accepting nearly 250,000 new immigrants every year for the past 10 years has greatly enhanced the richness of the cultural fabric of our country. One can say the ‘true north’ gets stronger and richer, day by day.
By Kathy Bunka, Canadian Chargé d’Affaires in Slovakia
18. Jan 2016 at 6:05