“Settling Like a State: Acehnese Refugees in Vancouver”

In Canada, the phenomenon of urban refugees is largely an expression of state-managed practices, not spontaneous migration and settlement. This study focuses on the distinctly North American, and specifically Canadian, experiences of pre-meditated, state-planned, government-managed migration and settlement for urban refugees from the Aceh region of Indonesia to Vancouver, British Columbia in 2004. It explores why and how these refugees came to Vancouver; the state policy decision that located all of them in one city; and how they have fared in acquiring official language proficiency and employment. Whereas many refugees move to urban centres to enhance educational and employment opportunities, this study illustrates the obstacles to accessing both in Vancouver. Despite full legal status and access to employment sanctioned by the host state, there is no guarantee that refugees will have an easier time creating livelihoods under dramatically new conditions. The analysis is based on research conducted between January and August 2005 during which a survey of housing, employment, and income issues was conducted with 70 of the 104 Acehnese refugees who had relocated to Vancouver since February 2004. In addition, a one-day, three-part series of focus groups was held during which 47 members of the Acehnese community took part. Discussions centred on three key moments during their migration: (1) while in Malaysian detention camps; (2) upon arrival in Vancouver, British Columbia; and (3) during the first year of settlement in the city, to ascertain common settlement experiences, policy implications, and the short-term ‘success’ of the resettlement. en

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