Here’s how Syrian refugees who came to Canada say they’re doing — seven years later

Encouraging study:

Seven years after Canada opened its doors to Syrian refugees, that first cohort of newcomers say they feel good about their new lives, have remained friends with their sponsors and are hopeful for a better future.

However, many still struggle with finding gainful employment, according to a two-year research project by the Environics Institute.

For the newcomers and Canadians, the time between 2015 and 2016 was a defining moment of their lives and in this country’s history, as communities banded together and welcomed 25,000 Syrians within months during a national resettlement project.

“It was a feel-good thing. These people were coming over to Canada from a crisis. We were giving them a home. The government and private citizens were stepping up. They were settling in,” says Keith Neuman, research director of the study released Saturday.

“It was something that made a lot of Canadians feel good about their country, if you will. It’s kind of faded now in memory, but it hasn’t really soured.”

Researchers interviewed 305 Syrian refugees who came during that period about their lived experience and where they are today, seven years later. Participants, who responded to a callout, answered 125 questions in Arabic, English or French during in-depth interviews.

Almost nine in 10 described their current life in Canada in positive light, most particularly feeling safe and secure and being accepted by their local community in spite of different degrees of financial insecurity and challenges with employment.

While many said they appreciated the country’s rule of law and respect for human rights, the things they liked least in Canada included: the harsh weather (32 per cent), the initial challenges in adapting to a new culture and lifestyle (19 per cent), and being separated from families and friends (14 per cent).

An overwhelming 93 per cent of respondents said moving to Canada was the right thing to do, though six per cent expressed mixed feelings about the decision, while the remainder expressed clear regret or did not respond to the question.

“Canada is not a perfect country, but it’s a good country,” one participant told researchers. “You can do what you want in life; but you need to work hard, like anywhere, but here you have the tools for success.”

“I felt something I never felt back home. You’re free,” another was quoted as saying in the report. “Back in Syria, I had to iron my husband’s shirt every day, since I landed here, I never ironed a shirt once! People are all the same, there is no separation of classes.”

Although few arrived with a functional fluency in English or French, more than 60 per cent of those surveyed now rated their language fluency as excellent or good.

Half of the refugees interviewed were currently working, including three per cent reporting to be doing multiple jobs and seven per cent who were self-employed. Fifty-one per cent said their jobs fully or somewhat matched their past education, skills and experience.

Most people were employed in transportation, warehousing, retail, construction and accommodation and food services. Some were in professional, scientific and technical services.

Fourteen per cent of respondents reported their household income was “good enough and they were able to save from it,” while 63 per cent indicated it was “just enough.” The remaining quarter said they felt stretched or were having a rough time.

More than half of the survey participants said they feel a very strong sense of belonging to Canada, with most of the rest describing it as somewhat strong (35 per cent).

Those who were privately sponsored by community organizations and church groups have developed enduring relationships with their supporters, with three quarters of those surveyed saying they remain in touch years later.

Among the many aspirations of the Syrian immigrants were: owning a home (42 per cent); completing more education and training to improve their lives (39 per cent); sponsoring other family members to Canada (24 per cent) and ensuring their children finish higher education (22 per cent).

Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement project was unique and there have been many takeaways for similar operations in the future, says Jobran Khanji, the research project’s community outreach lead.

“Different governments mobilized. Community agencies mobilized and the civic society mobilized. Your average Canadians came together in a crisis situation within weeks and months to support the families who were the first to arrive in Canada,” said Khanji, himself a Syrian immigrant from Damascus.

“It’s a great demonstration of what can be done when everybody mobilizes.”

Nabiha Atallah of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia said she was not surprised by the survey findings but said she was encouraged most Syrians felt welcomed and that they belonged.

Nova Scotia welcomed about 1,500 of the Syrian refugees. Most of them were among the most vulnerable, with many children, sponsored by the government. Yet, they were eager to start working right away.

“It has taken the five or six years. Language is not an easy thing to learn as an adult when some of the people did not even have much of formal education,” Atallah said.

“One of the important things of this report is for the community to see that their response was really effective, because we see that most of the people in this study said they felt they belong and they’re part of the community. That’s great confirmation for the general population.”

Chris Friesen of Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says the report was reflective of the experience of the clients served in the province that resettled more than 3,000 Syrians.

It’s important to track the well-being of the Syrians over time to identify areas of needs and take those lessons to other humanitarian operations, he said.

“We’ve really taken some of the approaches and experiences in Operation Syrian refugees forward,” said Friesen, referring to the resettlement of displaced Afghans and Ukrainians. “That’s encouraging. We’re not repeating it, but we’re building upon it.”

Source: Here’s how Syrian refugees who came to Canada say they’re doing — seven years later

Link to report: Final Report

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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