Remittances and the Economic Well-Being of Sudanese- and Vietnamese-Canadian Refugees

By Johnson, Phyllis J. | Consumer Interests Annual, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Remittances and the Economic Well-Being of Sudanese- and Vietnamese-Canadian Refugees


Johnson, Phyllis J., Consumer Interests Annual


Much of the remittance literature emphasizes the situation of immigrants sending money and goods to family members, but little is known about refugees' experiences of sending remittances (e.g., Blue, 2004; Ghosh, 2006). Two groups of refugees were selected for this study: Vietnamese and Sudanese. Vietnamese refugees have a history of almost 30 years in Canada, and the Sudanese less than 10 years. Including both provides an opportunity to assess the effect of remittances on refugees from different parts of the world and with different lengths of time in Canada, but who have experienced resettlement under similar circumstances (e.g., Canada's refugee resettlement program, and no prior ethnic community available when they arrived). The views of leaders were sought because they may have knowledge about their community that goes beyond their own experiences, and because they have been involved in organizing ethnic community activities and in serving as a liaison with the agencies assisting in resettlement and integration. Settlement counselors who have worked with African and Southeast Asian refugees were also asked to provide their views about remittances and their effect on refugee well-being.

Methods

Focus group interviews were completed in Fall 2006 with Vietnamese leaders (2 men, 3 women), Sudanese leaders (5 men, 7 women), and government settlement counselors (8) who work with refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa. Focus groups were organized and conducted by a female settlement counselor who has extensive experience in working with newcomers, a social science master's degree, and experience in focus group methods. The interviews covered three broad areas: 1) remittance practices in the community, 2) effect of remittances on senders' well-being, and 3) impact of immigration policies on remittance practices. An honorarium ($25) was given in respect for participants' time. The 1.5 to 2.5 hour sessions were recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Results

Vietnamese and Their Remittance Experiences

In the early years, the Vietnamese sent goods and medicines that were not available in Vietnam and which could be either used or sold by the family. Remitters felt an obligation to support family, and as a result, they did not have a break from work or time to go to school to improve their English or job skills. Once money was sent, it became expected and that created some dependency. Today, sending money is common if they still have family in Vietnam. Money is sent through banks, Western Union, or with family or friends visiting Vietnam. The remittances are for special holidays or events (Vietnamese New Year, anniversary of ancestor's death, weddings, and funerals) or for purchasing land to go home to retire. Some of the effects on those who are currently remitting money to family in Vietnam include conflict between spouses about sending money to his or to her family, and whether to send money to family in Vietnam or to spend that amount on family in Canada. The former refugees want to support family and community in Vietnam, but they do not want their financial help ever viewed as supporting the Vietnamese government. In the early days, people were also secretive about sending remittances as others in the community felt that doing so was providing support to the communists. Their advice to newcomers is to budget carefully so that they can meet their own needs in Canada and provide remittances to family in Vietnam.

Sudanese and Their Remittance Experiences

All agreed that sending remittances is a very common practice. A variety of methods are used with the main methods Western Union or relying on Somalis to get the money to where it is supposed to go (extensive fees for this). The female leaders said that they pooled their money with other women and rotated which person's family received money that month. …

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