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Reprinted from the Kings County Register.

Immigration minister captivates crowd at Acadia’s spring ESL conference

By Ashley Thompson, published May 19, 2016

WOLFVILLE ­ – The crowd seemed almost entranced as Nova’s Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab spoke. Conference hosted at Acadia University May 14.

The relatively new politician was born in Halifax, but sent to live with her grandparents in Lebanon at age two. The eldest of six siblings, she took on a lot of responsibility at a young age.

She vividly remembers fleeing from Lebanon 40 years ago in an attempt to escape a civil war, but she seldom speaks of this experience.

The Halifax Armdale MLA does, however, feel her past gives her some valuable insight into the plight of refugees.

“I know what that feels like because it was literally escaping… through guns and through fires,” said Metlege Diab.

Metlege Diab, who now speaks multiple languages, returned to Canada with no English.

“That is the biggest hurdle – language,” she said.

Refugee advocacy

As Immigration Minister, Metlege Diab is constantly advocating for Nova Scotia to receive more refugee nominations. Sad as it is, she told her captivated audience at Acadia the viral photo that circulated of a young Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach in September felt all too familiar to her.

“For me the picture, unfortunately, wasn’t anything new,” she said.

“For me, it’s like where were you all? This has been happening for years and years.”

That said, Metlege Diab was pleased with the federal government’s vow to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. She estimates that Nova Scotia is home to about 1,000 new refugees so far in 2016, and it is anticipated many more will be arriving before the year is through.

“The normal number of refugees that would come to Nova Scotia on an annual basis for the last 10, 15 years would have been up to 200 refugees.”

More than 130 private and government-assisted refugee sponsorship groups were formed in Nova Scotia alone by December 2015, she said. She urged all in attendance to continue to show compassion as the newcomers settle in as residents of Nova Scotia, a place she where people are fortunate to have the quality of life many refugees could only ever dream of.

“The more we understand that the more we can help other people. And, in turn, they’re going to help us because we’re all in this together,” she said.

Rachel McNally, vice chair of the Centreville Aldershot Refugee Sponsorship committee, has had firsthand experience helping a Somali family of eight adapt to their new home in Kentville.

“Learning English is the big thing that we’re working on right now,” she said, adding that the ESL conference helped her understand some of the challenges the family is facing as refugees from a foreign country.“They are catching on very quickly.”

She’s impressed with the progress the family is making in learning how to use the technology in their home, adapting to their new environment outside of the house and communicating with gestures and what little English they know.

“They’re such lovely people and it’s really cool to be able to see them get it, and understand, and catch on to words.”

Community learning tools in place

The Kentville-based Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA) offers newcomers seeking English as a Second Language (ESL) training free instruction.

Donna Allan, co­ordinator of VCLA’s ESL program, attended Acadia’s ESL conference along with several of the learning association’s volunteer tutors.

“For them it’s a wonderful opportunity to get some tips and some guidance in terms of language instruction and development,” said Allan.

The non­profit organization has noted a significant spike in demand with the ongoing efforts to bring refugees to Nova Scotia.

“It’s been our busiest year that I’m aware of,” said Allan. “There’s really no time to stop.”

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