Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Refugee advocate retires, keeps cause close

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The man in charge of Manitoba's largest refugee-settlement agency, Welcome Place, is settling himself into a welcome place -- retirement.

"The first thing I'm going to do is throw away my alarm clock," said Marty Dolin, whose hallmark South Bronx growl has been heard from his first Canadian home in Nova Scotia to the halls of the Manitoba legislature.

Until the end of June, he'll work at the new Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council building at 521 Bannatyne Ave., a far cry from where he and the non-profit agency started in 1990. "When I started here, we were in a basement," he said.

"Now, we're in a building. We're recognized around the country. We're hiring the right people and doing the right things," said Dolin, 72.

"We're the largest private sponsor in Canada, bringing in more refugees and reuniting families," he said. Dolin came to Canada in 1965 and studied at Dalhousie University in Halifax, where his love for Canada began.

"A Czech airliner crashed in Newfoundland and there was a thing on the CBC where they were looking for blood donors," he said. He and his wife went to donate at a Halifax hospital, and the hardened New Yorker was struck by what saw.

"There was a line five blocks long with people standing in the rain... willing to give their blood to people they didn't know," said Dolin, whose late wife Mary Beth was the NDP MLA for Kildonan between 1981 and 1985.

"I can't imagine any other country doing this," said Dolin, who was elected for one term to the seat Mary Beth left after she died of cancer.

"That kind of empathy and that kind of support's why Canada has done well. Canadian people want to help, and they want to help refugees," said Dolin.

His biggest challenge has been getting Ottawa to see it.

"The federal government doesn't get it. It doesn't want to recognize its moral and legal obligation to protect refugees," said Dolin.

"They do their best to keep them out."

"This had been going on for the 21 years I've been here," he said. "I wish to hell the federal government would stop being so negative."

Dolin made helping refugees his life's work, and they rewarded him with their strength and spirit.

"One of the things I love about this job is all of our clients are heroes," Dolin said.

"These are people who escaped brutal dictators, who climbed under the Berlin Wall, who escaped the Warsaw ghetto. In spite of it, and some were severely hurt, they seem to do well."

And they adapt and forgive.

"We brought in people from competing old factions who were killing each other, and there's no incidence of that here," he said.

"One of the things we were able to convince people here is that you don't need to carry your old-country baggage here," said Dolin.

"If you don't like somebody that doesn't give you the option of killing them. You can just avoid them and sooner or later maybe you can get along with them."

When he leaves Welcome Place at the end of June, he plans to keep championing human rights, he said.

"It's been a good run. I've enjoyed it and learned a lot," Dolin said. The refugees and staff at Welcome Place supplied him with first-hand news of what's happening in the world.

"When the war began in Iraq, one of the staff members called his mom and asked what's happening. She'd look out the window and tell him," said Dolin.

Tickets to the June 15 celebration of Dolin's retirement are available by emailing wanday@miic.ca.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2011 B5

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