Gordana Radan, new head of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. Photo courtesy Calgary Catholic Immigration Society

Immigration challenges are Calgary’s opportunity

  • January 21, 2023

It was February 1984 in Sarajevo. 

The sporting world migrated to the capital city of Bosnia — at the time Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted a state in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia — for the Winter Olympics. 

Gordana Radan, born and raised in Sarajevo, was present, experiencing the sights and sounds of the world’s premier cold-weather athletics competition. 

“During the closing ceremonies of the Games in Sarajevo it was said, ‘Goodbye Sarajevo, see you in Calgary (for the 1988 Winter Games),’ ” recalled Radan. “Little did I know 11 years later that Calgary would become my new home.”

In 1995, Radan came to the Alberta metropolis as a refugee. Her first home was the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre operated by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS). On New Year’s Day, Radan began her duties as CEO of the CCIS, over 27 years after arriving in her new homeland. 

Radan takes over from Fariborz Birjandian, who served as CEO since 1994. Birjandian will continue contributing to the CCIS legacy as an advisor.

Birjandian oversaw impressive growth in the CCIS organization during his long tenure. When he started, he had a staff of 30 people working out of the basement of St. Mary’s High School. Now there are more than 450 staff and 2,000 volunteers working for the non-profit. 

In 1997, Radan began contributing to the CCIS mission. She worked as an employment counsellor for the first decade, and in 2007 was appointed director of business, employment and training services. Last September, she was named Birjandian’s successor. 

Her interest in working for the CCIS was spawned by her positive client experience. 

“At the time, the CCIS had a tagline, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me,’ ” said Radan. “I can truly tell you that from the first day I felt that sense of belonging. I felt welcomed from the organization, and from day one I wanted to work for the organization.”

A close-knit bond has endured between the CCIS and the Diocese of Calgary for decades, and Radan hopes this relationship will continue to thrive on her watch. There is a private sponsorship agreement between the non-profit and diocese that empowers a number of churches to support migrants arriving in Calgary each year.

“In my opinion, what links the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and the Catholic diocese is that our values are very much aligned,” said Radan. “The No. 1 value that both organizations stand for and believe is supporting those in need, and we support this value with the work we both do.”

According to data released by the Government of Canada, the country set a record in 2022 by welcoming 431,645 new permanent residents. This figure outpaces the previous year’s then historic figure of 401,000 new permanent residents, a mark that shattered the total of 400,000 in 1913, which stood as the record for 108 years. 

Federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser forecasted that newcomer levels will continue trending upwards, and that by 2025, 500,000 permanent residents will be admitted within a single year. 

“The high influx of immigrants and refugees into Calgary has been spoken of in some quarters as a challenging situation for some settlement agencies with the intake of a large number of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees,” said Radan. “I know some stakeholders worry, and they may have a valid reason to have concern that available resources and services might not be sufficient to cater to the settlement and integration needs of the growing number of newcomers coming to Calgary.

“I think our organization, while we acknowledge the challenges, views the increasing numbers of arrivals as a great opportunity. It will provide stakeholders with a unique occasion to collaborate in providing, welcoming and nurturing arrivals so they can thrive and achieve their full settlement potential.”

Affordable housing is the chief concern, but Radan said CCIS continually finds innovative solutions and forges strong community partnerships to house new Calgarians. The CEO expects Calgary to remain a prime landing spot. Each year, the city earns a lofty spot in the global rankings of cities. Last June, the Economist Intelligence Unit named Calgary and Zurich, Switzerland, as the third most livable urban centres in the world behind Vienna and Copenhagen.

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