Tech developers hope to reshape refugee experience in Canada

In News by MIIC

High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met refugee Jean-Claude Puati (centre) and food services chef Jean-Marc Riverin, who hires refugees at Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal. © UNHCR/Michelle Siu

He arrived in Montreal two years ago, after fleeing persecution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – and subsequently South Africa – over his sexual orientation. After spending years on the run, he found work and stability elusive, even in the country that welcomed him.

“It can be so difficult to find work when you first arrive,” says Puati, who eventually found employment at a hospital, cooking hundreds of dishes each day for patients. “But a job gives you a sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency.” Only recently did Puati’s employer realize he arrived as a refugee, seeing only a young man with intense work ethic and a sharp sense of humour.

It is a scenario that is all too common. And Abdullah Douad wants to rectify it.

Standing behind a glowing screen in one of Montreal’s newest technology incubators, Douad, the centre’s executive director, paces back and forth making his pitch – channelling the image of every tech maverick leading a high-profile product unveiling. “There’s a mountain of opportunity here. People just need to be guided towards it.”

In the past two years, the Refugee Centre has taken aim at a range of issues: housing, employment and access to education. Supported by student tuition fees, the centre does not just advocate for policy initiatives to help the resettlement of refugees in Canada – it aims to draw deeply on technology, harnessing the potential of young refugees arriving in the city.

“More than 42,000 tech jobs were created in Montreal last year alone,” says Douad. “We think we’ve pinpointed the future and we want refugees to be a part of that world.”

The centre joins the ranks of technology incubators across the globe turning their attention to refugees and displaced people. Europe already has a number of tech-centred mentorship programs.

Touring Montreal on the first leg of a four-day Canada visit, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met young refugees and students to learn first hand about the ways they are rethinking and innovating the refugee resettlement experience.

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