Looking Back: Operation Parasol – Canada responds to Kosovar refugee crisis

In spring 1999 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) asked several countries to provide safe haven for some of the 350,000 Kosovar refugees who had fled the fighting in their homeland. Canada agreed to take in 5,000 people and the Canadian military airlifted them from Europe to military bases in this country, including Camp Aldershot and Windsor Park in Nova Scotia, where about half of the refugees first landed.

Operation Parasol was a ground-breaking and creative way to deal with a huge humanitarian crisis, “a massive endeavor that called on the sustained efforts of countless volunteers, federal and provincial governmental departments, and international and non-government organizations.” MISA was one of the organizations on the front lines. From May 5 to August 5th, we were contracted by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) to provide resettlement assistance support to the refugees on-site at the bases. MISA hired four staff for Camp Aldershsot, five staff for Windsor Park and three replacement staff for our Settlement unit. Two of those staff, Narine Mosesova and Zlatan Musanovic, continue to work with ISANS today. They played an important role in cultural orientation for the new arrivals, as well as for local partners who had no experience of working with refugees.

MISA provided individual family sessions as well as group sessions and informal drop-in sessions.

In response to residents’ concerns MISA requested that CIC hold a question and answer session, which was so popular that it became a weekly event. We also facilitated the publication of a newsletter in Albanian for the residents.

After the first few months, some people went to other parts of Canada. The refugees were given the option of returning to Kosova within two years and approximately one-third chose to go back, with the rest remaining in Canada and many in Nova Scotia.

Today the world is facing another huge humanitarian crisis in Syria. Can Canada step up to help with the same creative generosity it showed sixteen years ago? Nova Scotia welcomed hundreds of people from Kosovo who are now integrated in our community – can we do the same for the Syrian refugees, now numbering four million?