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Panel discusses root causes of the migrant caravan crisis

Apr 15, 2019
Guylaine Spencer

 Panel group including Dr Wahoush

Photo above: Shelley Porteus (Muse Arts Community), Olive Wahoush (School of Nursing), Grahame Russell (Director of Rights Action), Yurissa Varela (MSc candidate, University of Ottawa), Valentina Antonipillai (PhD candidate and moderator), and Nicole Longstaff (MacGlobal)

Dr. Olive Wahoush, associate professor in the School of Nursing, was part of a panel discussion on April 3 at the David Braley Health Sciences Centre. The event, hosted by MacGlobal, and well-attended by students, residents  and local agencies, was titled: “La Caravana - Panel Discussion on the Central American Migrant Crisis”.

Wahoush was invited to be on the panel as a Faculty of Health Sciences representative and as an expert in research with refugees. She also teaches global health at the graduate level at McMaster.

“The key focus of the discussion,” says Wahoush, “was the migrant caravan, where thousands of people are trying to get into the United States from South America and coming through Mexico. We hear about this in the news but seldom hear about what is causing people to leave everything behind and risk their lives to make this hazardous journey.”

Panel members talked about the root causes of the crisis, which includes the devastating impact that mining interests are having on the local environment, jobs, and safety in South America. “The panel focused on Canadian mining interests in South America. The principal speaker was Grahame Russell, lawyer and director of Rights Action,” says Wahoush.

“One thing I said to the group was that I was struck with the recent intensive interest in SNC Lavalin and their interests in Libya, and at the same time there’s been zero talk about Canadian mining interests. That evening, we heard about the destruction of territories in South America. The contamination of water has been catastrophic, especially for Indigenous communities,” says Wahoush.

Another speaker, Yurissa Varela, a graduate student at University of Ottawa, spoke about the crisis in Honduras. “Her family came here from Honduras in the 1980s because of the problems there,” says Wahoush. “The takeaway for me was just how long-standing this issue has been.” Members of the audience who originally from Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Honduras, etc., spoke and agreed with what they were hearing about the root causes.

Wahoush reflects that, “Maybe it’s time we started to view these large global corporations as the new  colonizing powers. Some of those corporations have unprecedented power with the same or more resources at their beck and call than some small nation states. We have to look at how we need to manage that. Our own pension plans are invested in Canadian mining and are benefitting from some of that. It’s a concern.”

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