Srangers at the Gate: The "Boat People's" First Ten Years in Canada

By Rogers, Tim; Pruegger, Valerie | Canadian Psychology, May 2000 | Go to article overview
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Srangers at the Gate: The "Boat People's" First Ten Years in Canada


Rogers, Tim, Pruegger, Valerie, Canadian Psychology


MORTON BEISER Srangers at the Gate: The "Boat People's"First Ten Years in Canada Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999, xvi + 214 pp. (ISBN 0-8020-8227-7, CS 21.95, Softcover) Reviewed by TIM ROGERS and VALERIE PRUEGGER

This book chronicles 10 years of research on the "boat people" since the arrival of 60,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia circa 1980. The data upon which most of the monograph is based are drawn from the Refugee Resettlement Project, which is a longitudinal study of a representative sample of 1,358 refugees. This book and the data it reports serve to challenge a number of popular misconceptions including: (1) Immigrants and refugees cause unemployment - it is documented that immigration levels have had no effect on unemployment levels or the economy in general (p. 165); (2) Immigrants and refugees overuse and put tremendous strain on the social welfare net it is shown that these communities have been at the national average, or below, for drawing on social services such as health and social assistance (e.g., p. 169); and (3) Immigrants and refugees bring crime and disease to Canada - it is false that refugees pose potential risks to the host country (pp. 170-178). The book also fairly examines important facts about Canada's racist immigration and social policies, past and present. While Beiser notes concerns about depression, resettlement risk, language, and social support, among others, his data strongly support the common finding that most refugees adapt well and become proud and productive members of Canadian society. He coneludes with a plea to inject more informed awareness into both public discourse and policy making in order to achieve more balanced perspectives.

After a brief introduction (Chapter 1), Beiser provides some context with a chilling introduction to the historical events in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that led to the "boat people" crisis (Chapter 2). More context is presented in the discussion of Canadian policies leading up to the decision to admit the refugees (Chapter 3). Then, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, Beiser explores, in respective chapters, issues of mental health, risk, resettlement stress, social support, and conception of time. A discussion of migration success (Chapter 9) is followed by an excellent concluding chapter which attempts to draw out policy and educational implications.

This is an important book that warrants consideration in any efforts to explore the psychological aspects of Canadian culture and immigration studies. Despite minor quibbles with the use of words such as "exotic" to describe refugees and their homelands, and universalist assumptions about the meaning of depression, success, and time, this book is an excellent follow up to After the Door Has Been Opened: Mental Health Issues Affecting Immigrants and Refugees in Canada (Canadian Task Force, 1988). It supports a number of the recommendations made therein which remain valid and unimplemented to this day, although Beiser's reliance on statistical data from this document at times proves misleading. For example, Beiser's 1988 figures note that 75% of immigrants versus 10% of refugees speak either English or French, with a gap of 65% (p. 162). More recent data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (1997) show that these figures have been reduced to 58% of immigrants versus 54% of refugees with knowledge of one of the official languages, leaving the gap at a mere 4%.

The narratives and aggregate patterns presented in the book uphold findings, both qualitative and quantitative, in numerous reports of refugee adaptation by academics and service providers over the years. The biggest disappointment is the relegation of narrative data to a secondary role in favour of "dispassionate" methods. Narratives are offered with little analysis, often leaving the reader struggling to interpret what seems to be irrational or cruel behaviour (e.

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