Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Needs of Refugee Children in Canada: What Can Roma Refugee Families Tell Us?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Needs of Refugee Children in Canada: What Can Roma Refugee Families Tell Us?

Article excerpt


The 1951 UN Convention defines a refugee as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or, owing to suchfear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protectionof that country." Canada is a leading refugee-resettlement country (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2002). Since 1999, increasing numbers of Roma1 refugees from Hungary have come to this country. Their most frequent destination is Toronto, Ontario (Hajnal, 2002), and the southern Ontario region has received the largest groups of Roma immigrants in the last decade. The city of Hamilton (population 500,000), about 40 miles southwest of Toronto, has the third highest proportion of foreign-born people (24 %) in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2007) and is a prime destination for Roma refugees, estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000 people (Roheim, 2010). The settlement of Roma in Hamilton has likely reflected efforts on the part of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to resettle government-assisted refugees in smaller centres (Schellenberg, 2004) as well as the presence of family members or friends; these are the two most frequently cited reasons recent immigrants, in general, settle in a particular city (Statistics Canada, 2003).

Tamas (2001) asserted that little attention has been given to the needs of the Roma, which she describes as "one of the most misunderstood, marginalized, and discriminated-against ethnic groups today" (p. 1). Service agencies have been concerned about the Roma population's perceived difficulties with the child-protection and youth and criminal justice systems. Roma appeared to have more difficulties with these systems compared with other immigrant populations and some questions have arisen about the ability of these systems to provide services effectively to the Roma (Walsh, Este, and Krieg, 2008; Walsh and Krieg, 2007a; Walsh and Krieg, 2007b).

This paper reports on the perceived educational, social and health service needs of Roma children in Hamilton Ontario. It reviews the literature regarding immigrant and refugee children's needs for and access to services, and their family's needs, where these are inextricably linked to the well-being of the children (for example, income assistance). To more fully understand the difficulties particular to Roma refugees in establishing relationships with service systems, we also describe the historical and current experiences of the Roma in Europe (Lee, 2000; Open Society Institute and Equitas, 2007).

The theoretical framework for this study was the concept of enculturation and acculturation, and potential conflicts between these processes. Enculturation is defined as the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that enable them to be functioning members of the society in which they are born and raised (Ogbu, 1995). In contrast, acculturation is the process of acquiring the values and behaviours of a new, different culture, adapting behaviour or belief systems to incorporate portions of the other culture. The collision of enculturation and acculturation creates conflict on an individual and societal level; when service providers do not share a culture with their clients, an array of problems can be created (Milstein and Lucie, 2004).


In 2004, about 51,000 immigrants to Canada were children under 15 years of age. Of those, slightly more than 14% (about 5,200) were refugees (Chuang and Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance [CISSA], 2009). Increasingly, these children come from countries where English or French are not the official or first language spoken: in 2002, 74% of all immigrant children could not speak either official Canadian language (Chuang and CISSA, 2009).

Little attention has been given to lived experience or realities of refugee children (BekPederson and Montgomery, 2006; Boyden and Hart, 2007). …

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