Monday, January 05, 2009

South Asians, the forgotten minority in Ontario

Many South Asians immigrate into Ontario, and it is that group who often are forgotten when talk of beating poverty comes up. To shed light on the problem, a rally was held recently at Scarborough, Ontario. The activists say that the level of poverty among South Asians is at a disproportionate level compared to other minorities.

Kim Zarzour of The Liberal gave the details on what the activists hope to do after the rally.

Studies show that the poor in Ontario today are most likely to be people of colour. While poverty among non-minorities dropped by 26 per cent between 1980 and 2000, visible minorities experienced an almost four-fold increase, said Neethan Shan, executive director of Council of Agencies Serving South Asians.

In York Region where, between 2001 and 2006, the number of visible minorities increased by 53 per cent, that disproportion is especially pronounced - but is often hidden, said Mr. Shan.


The anti-poverty rally was held to raise attention to the issue of poverty in immigrant communities and to find ways for South Asians to work on the problem at the grassroots level. The group plans to present their response to Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy Report, which they say ignores the "racialization of poverty".

Mr. Shan says part of the problem stems from immigrants not getting the opportunity to learn skills, or their credentials not being valued, who are subsequently being exploited on the job or working for less than minimum wage. He says the workers may be afraid to question their employers because "they are here and want to make the best of living in a safe environment."

It is ironic, he says, that while business is increasingly globalized and taking place overseas, those who have immigrated here with professional credentials and experience are not being valued.

It's not just immigrant doctors and engineers who are stuck driving cabs, but also skilled tradespeople like electricians and plumbers who come from South Asia and can't get jobs in their trade, according to Mr. Shan.

Research conducted by the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario shows South Asians are more likely to be employed in full-time temporary work than any other visible minority group. More than half of Bangladeshis, and more than 30 per cent of Pakistanis, Tamils, Sri Lankans, and "other South Asians" live below the low-income cut-off. Bangladeshi women earn less than any other ethno-racial group, male or female, the Legal Clinic's studies show.

And yet the South Asian voice is often missing from anti-poverty initiatives and decision-making, say members of the Council.

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