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Are we really the worst place in the world to be a woman?

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Fri, Nov 18. 2011

Ever since the headlines of a Canadian newspaper asked if St. Vincent and the Grenadines could be the worst place in the world to be a woman, SEARCHLIGHT has been bombarded with telephone calls, emails, faxes and Facebook messages from Vincentians all over world, asking the same questions, explicitly or implicitly, “Could this be true?”{{more}} and “How are we going to respond to this?”

There is no getting away from the fact that domestic violence is a serious problem in our country, as it is in many other parts of the world. As recently as November 1, a SEARCHLIGHT editorial asked, in relation to the domestic violence problem, “When are we going to get serious?” We also asked, “How do we translate our outrage into action which would result in a transformation in our society?” Maybe now that we have been shamed as a nation, even if unfairly, we will begin to do something, both about reducing the incidence of domestic violence here, but also to deter those, who in their quest to achieve a perceived better life, would selfishly sully the good name of their place of birth.

According to the story in the Toronto Star, in 2010, 710 Vincentian women fled to Canada, claiming that were they to come back to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, their lives would be in danger. 710 women out of a population of 106,000 is a huge number, and these claims warrant further investigation, for if true, they would point to something being far worse than we ever imagined.

A large number of Vincentians believe that many, if not most, of the women’s claims to the Canadian Refugee Board are bogus. Since the story in the Toronto Star was published last weekend, SEARCHLIGHT has received communication from various persons who have been telling us stories about friends and relatives who have made up stories to secure refugee status. They say the immigration lawyers advise them that it is the shortest route to obtaining landed immigrant status in Canada.

For once, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and the Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace are in agreement about something, as they both say that some of the claims are bogus. At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr. Eustace said that he is bombarded on a weekly basis for requests from persons seeking letters which would support their applications for refugee status. He however made it clear that he has only written letters about the state of the economy, not about them being victims of domestic abuse.

SEARCHLIGHT also receives, on a regular basis, requests from Vincentians in Canada seeking refugee status. They approach us for newspaper stories to substantiate their claims that their lives are under threat. In many cases, we have found that the claimants only vaguely remember the circumstances surrounding the incidents in which they were supposed to have been so intimately involved, and which resulted in them having to flee their homeland. They are usually unable to provide the names of the perpetrators or the approximate dates on which the incidents occurred.

But could it be that our national pride is making us behave like the proverbial ostrich, making us refuse to accept the truth? So what is the truth? We don’t know. How we “feel” is of little moment. In the next few weeks, SEARCHLIGHT will be looking deeper into the issue, in an effort to come up with hard data, which would give us a clearer picture about how many of those seeking refugee status, genuinely qualify.

Facing economic hardship in one’s home country does not qualify a person for refugee status under the Canadian system. And certainly, many of our young women face economic hardship here at home. There is no unemployment benefit, and some ambitious young women, after leaving school, see the Great White North as their only hope for a bright future.

As the Canadian authorities and our foreign affairs officials have been advising for years, there are other ways to regularize one’s status in Canada, without taking actions which would indict one’s own country. On August, 23, 2011, we carried the story of a young Vincentian woman Keisha Toby, who came forward, so that other young women could see there is a better way. Keisha chose to take the route of becoming a trained caregiver, under a programme* offered by the Canadian Immigration Department. Today, Keisha is a legal immigrant in Canada and the holder of a Bachelor’s Degree from York University in Children’s Studies and Psychology. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Education.

Persons considering filing bogus refugee claims should also note that the chances of being rejected by the Canadian Refugee Board are fairly high, especially in the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a higher rejection-to-acceptance rate than the average of all countries.

*For more information on the Caregivers Programme in Toronto, persons can contact Bernice Small of the Working Women Organization in Toronto at [email protected]

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