‘We didn’t talk about the bombs’: How the 1st cohort of Syrian refugees made it through high school in Canada

Encouraging story on how schools helped these refugees integrate and succeed:

Marwa Nakhleh’s voice barely registers above a whisper as she recounts the horrors she witnessed on the streets of Damascus.

“It was terrible,” she says of seeing a car bomb go off in her neighbourhood, vividly recalling the darkness that followed. “There’s no electricity, and it’s dark, and people looking for their family and their friends.” Her mother, she says, ran out of the house in a panic, trying to find her.

Guns, bombs and people dying are the scenes she registered as an 11-year-old growing up in Syria’s capital.

Nakhleh is among the first wave of Syrian refugees Canada admitted in 2015-2016 — and she’s among the first students from that group who are now graduating from a Canadian high school.

When the Arab Spring became a nightmare for Syria’s civilians in 2011, and what would become one of the deadliest wars in history broke out, Nakhleh’s parents gathered their four children and headed for the nearest safe place — Lebanon, which was already teeming with refugees.

Nakhleh, 19, says she was unable to continue school in Lebanon, where her family spent four years awaiting resettlement.

Families on the run

As the war in Syria raged and spread, Ammar Jouma’s family cautiously watched and waited at their home in the coastal city of Latakia. In 2012, they too were forced to flee, leaving everything behind.

Their search for safety took them to Turkey, where Jouma’s father was able to find a job. But the days were long and the pay meagre, so Jouma, 12 years old at the time, went to work to help support his family.

“We faced a lot of problems there. We faced a lot of tragedies until we came to Canada — and that was three years ago.”

School plays a pivotal role

As the humanitarian crisis deepened in Syria, Canada agreed to resettle an unprecedented 25,000 refugees, most of them families with children.

At Edmonton’s Queen Elizabeth High School, principal Sue Bell assembled the staff and prepared for the influx. The school already had a large population of immigrant students and was set to accept as many of the Syrians as it could handle.

“I know that whoever walks through our door, we’re going to be welcoming and we’re going to have a place for them to be, and they’re going to love it here,” Bell told CBC News in 2015.

Among the 33 students who walked in the door the following autumn were Nakhleh and Jouma. Both were exhausted from their four-year ordeals as refugees. Neither of them spoke any English.

It fell to the director of the school’s English as a Second Language program, Sherri Ritchie, to help them integrate.

“Learning English, sure,” she says of the challenges facing the students. “But I think the biggest thing is a sense of wellness, a sense of safety, relationship, trust. That’s been the biggest thing.”

Many of the students who came to Canada had missed years of school. Some who arrived in their teens had only an elementary school education. Ritchie says the school had to toss out the rule book when it came to dealing with the students.

Their fears had to be accommodated, and remedial classes were offered. As well, Arabic-speaking students who were already in the system served as mentors, helping to bridge language and cultural barriers.

“We didn’t talk about the bombs, we didn’t talk about the gunshots. We just provided safety and relationships, humour and lots of time and understanding,” Ritchie said.

Some students dropped out, but many others have risen to the challenge.

Nakhleh couldn’t wait to begin school when her family arrived in Edmonton in February 2016. “That’s when I got hope back,” she says.

Dropped into a strange culture with a new language, she pushed forward with her academic studies while also volunteering in the community and working part-time.

Jouma says he struggled at first. Even though he was unhappy in Turkey, he didn’t relish the thought of another move, learning a new language and leaving his friends behind.

“If you saw me the first day I came to school you will say this guy will never, never, never get out of here or get his diploma. When I took ESL Level 1, English Level 1, I was really confused about what’s going on.”

Of the 33 Syrian refugee children who began at Queen Elizabeth High School in 2015-16, Nakhleh and Jouma are among the 11 who crossed the stage Thursday to receive their Grade 12 diplomas.

Big hopes for the future

Now that she has graduated, Nakhleh intends to use her refugee experience to help others facing a similar fate.

“When you’ve been in a war and you’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, you have lots of feelings and you don’t know what to do, especially when you go to another country way different from yours,” she says.

Jouma plans to follow in his family’s maritime tradition. Recalling his grandfather’s stories of adventures on the seas, he plans want to attend a marine school in Vancouver.

“I love oceans, even though we don’t have oceans in Edmonton. But one day I will work there. This is my dream — to become a captain for a big ship. A really big ship.”

He will also get his Canadian citizenship in a few months.

Both students say they still love and miss Syria. But they say it is not safe to go back. Canada is now their home.

Source: ‘We didn’t talk about the bombs’: How the 1st cohort of Syrian refugees made it through high school in Canada

How Syrian refugees to Canada have fared since 2015

Early indications for Syrian refugees. Given timing of Census (about a year after arrival), too early to draw definite conclusions. However the longer term analysis of refugee economic outcomes, broken down by private sponsorship and government selected, along with country of birth, are more interesting and informative:

The life of a refugee can be many things—dangerous, wearying, heart-rending, boring, nerve-racking, expensive and full of countless unexpected challenges to overcome. It also appears to be quite noisy.

Right now, for instance, the Kitchener, Ont., apartment of Jehad and Baraa Badr is cacophonous—much of it baby noise. Their older son, Hussam, has dropped by with grandson Zain for a playdate with a neighbour’s young child, who is also visiting. Younger son, Adam, makes his own contribution to the din. As do various electronic devices: some reminders for prayer time, others bringing texts and phone calls from friends and family. Rising above all this clamour, however, is Jehad’s exuberant account of the wonders of life in Canada, his gratitude for the help his family has received so far and his many plans for the future.

“I love being here. I love my friends. I love Canada,” he says loudly and with enthusiasm, his expressive body language making up for obvious struggles with language. “Good equality in Canada. Good government. No Syria government. No help.”

After spending three years in Egypt and Turkey—having left war-torn Syria behind in 2012—Jehad, Baraa and nine-year-old Adam arrived in southwestern Ontario in spring 2016 as part of the massive wave of Syrian refugees admitted into Canada following the last federal election. Hussam and his young family arrived a month later. Two other sons, however, will never arrive. Frustrated by the long wait in Egypt, they paid smugglers to take them across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and then made their way to Austria, where they now live permanently.

This separation of their family is just one of the many tests the Badrs have had to endure since fleeing their homeland. As with the rest of the more than 50,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada since 2015, settling into Canadian society requires grappling with the many cultural nuances and obligations of their new home. But most significantly, it means mastering a new language and finding employment. “I need a job,” says Jehad, 59, in his halting, declarative style. “I need English. But job and school? Problem.” It is a problem with both personal and political implications.

If there was a single defining issue of the 2015 federal election, it was debate over the proper national response to the Syrian refugee crisis—a question seared into our collective consciousness by that heart-wrenching photo of young Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body being carried away on a Turkish beach.

Demands for a political response to the humanitarian emergency immediately changed the course of the federal campaign. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government would take a total of 10,000 additional Syrian refugees—arguing that to accept any more would create security risks—while maintaining Canada’s military presence in the Middle East as a check on further crises. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau upped this to 25,000 refugees by the end of the year, and vowed to withdraw our squadron of CF-18s. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair topped both of his competitors by saying he’d accept 46,000 over several years, as well as end Canada’s military contribution.

In the end, Canadian voters apparently found Trudeau’s offer of 25,000 refugees the most persuasive. And while he failed to make good on his initial deadline, the Prime Minister’s goal was realized by mid-2016. Since then, the flow has slowed but is nowhere near stopping. The most recent count of Syrian refugees admitted into Canada since the election stands at 58,650, exceeding even Mulcair’s highest bid. For this effort, Canada has earned many admirers. “Thank God for Canada!” read a headline in the New York Times this year, lamenting the fact America under President Donald Trump had accepted only 12,000 Syrian refugees.

But taking in large numbers of refugees to widespread international acclaim is one thing. Integrating them successfully for their own happiness and well-being, and to prevent any urgent political or social issue, is quite another. With nativist sentiment rising around the world, and with the emergence of irregular refugees as a new hot-button political issue in the upcoming federal election, it seems both appropriate and necessary to check on the progress of the class of 2015/16. So how are Canada’s Syrian refugees doing?

Statistics Canada recently took a close look at that first cohort of 25,000 Syrian refugees who landed as of May 10, 2016. Employment is the most important metric by which to gauge the integration of refugees into Canadian society. And here the news seems rather disappointing. Only 24 per cent of adult male Syrian refugees were working, according to census data. For government-sponsored male refugees (as opposed to those sponsored by charities, churches or other private organizations), the employment rate was a mere five per cent. These figures are substantially below the 39 per cent average for male refugees from other countries. The gap between female Syrian refugees and those from other countries is equally significant: eight per cent versus 17 per cent.

Such low rates of employment are largely explained by the demographics and timing of the Syrian refugee cohort. In response to the humanitarian crisis, Canada adjusted its acceptance criteria to include more young families with children and fewer working-age males. Standards for language skills and education were also lowered. More than half the Syrian refugees could not speak an official language, compared to just 28 per cent of refugees from other countries. Among adults, less than half had even a high school diploma. (Neither Jehad nor Baraa Badr are high school graduates.)

For Bessma Momani, professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the relatively poor performance of the Syrian refugees in finding work is entirely understandable given their profile. “Canada did a good job of targeting the most vulnerable people,” she says. “This group includes semi-skilled and mostly uneducated people. Some were also injured.” It makes sense that a group chosen for humanitarian reasons would take longer to find their footing in a new country than migrants selected for their employability, she says. Plus, it’s still early days. Many of the Syrian refugees had been in Canada for only a few weeks or months when the census was taken. It would be a supreme accomplishment for anyone to have found a job and learned a new language in such a short time.

As for political fears raised during the 2015 election about security risks and the national capacity to absorb such a large influx of refugees, Momani notes time has proven such claims misplaced. “Canada is a big country with a lot of capacity,” she says. “The debate between 10,000 and 25,000 was really just an arbitrary distinction since we have now taken in over 50,000.” And she highlights how popular providing aid to Syrian refugees proved to be among voters. “I think that surprised many Canadian politicians,” she adds.

Syria’s diaspora may no longer be the dominant political topic in Canada, but refugees remain a key election issue—except that now it’s marked by a growing note of skepticism. After years of pressure from federal Conservatives over the influx of more than 40,000 irregular refugees through unauthorized border crossings, mostly in Quebec, the Trudeau government is now adopting a much tougher stance toward these asylum seekers. The 2019 federal budget, for example, proposes to take away their right to a full refugee hearing; it also boosts funding for border measures to “detect and intercept individuals who cross Canadian borders irregularly.” These irregular border-crossers are mostly from Africa and the Caribbean, not the Middle East.

In another recent development signifying a change in mood toward refugees, the 2019 Ontario budget eliminates all legal aid funding for refugee and immigration programs.

As for the long-term consequences of Canada’s mostly generous approach to refugees, another recent StatsCan study looked at all 830,000 refugees who entered Canada between 1980 and 2009 and found their employment and earnings tend to improve slowly over time, but with some significant variations. Refugees who were privately sponsored seem to do better than those sponsored by the federal government, but this difference evaporates after about a decade.

One puzzle that appears permanent, however, is the role played by culture in the integration process. After 15 years in Canada, StatsCan notes that refugees from certain countries (Yugoslavia, Poland, Colombia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and El Salvador) had earnings largely indistinguishable from immigrants accepted on strict economic criteria. But refugees from some other countries (Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China) appear to do noticeably worse, even after accounting for factors such as education, language skills and age. StatsCan admits it has no real answer as to why such differences persist.

It is perhaps too soon to tell which category the Syrian refugees will fall into, but the early figures show those who arrived in late 2015 are already more likely to have a job than those who came a few months later, suggesting a fairly rapid process of integration. “I think we’ll see a lot of new small businesses coming out of this group of Syrian refugees,” says Momani, noting anecdotally that the national shawarma shop sector appears to be undergoing substantial growth. “I suspect by the next census, the numbers [of employed Syrian refugees] will have greatly improved. There is a lot of early success out there.”

Of course the biggest barrier to early success in the job market remains language. And this often requires some difficult choices for newcomers to Canada.

Shortly after arriving in southwestern Ontario, Jehad [Badr] enrolled in an English language school located in the basement of Waterloo’s First United Church, which supported his family’s refugee claim. “First six months, I go to English school. But I need job. I have rent. You need money,” says Jehad, who owned an auto upholstery repair shop back in Syria.

Mounting bills and a gnawing desire for independence eventually convinced him to drop out in favour of a job at a local patio furniture manufacturer. “I wish I go back to school. Maybe when I am old man,” he laughs. Sometimes Jehad answers questions twice, first in Arabic to his son Hussam, who acts as a language coach, and then again in English.

In contrast, Baraa, 49, has stuck with her language training and is now close to graduating. “When I am done, maybe I study more or look for a job,” she says.

Having chosen work over study, Jehad has already weathered two layoffs in the past two years as a result of the seasonal nature of the patio furniture business. A monthly $3,000 stipend from the church has long since run out and now rent consumes more than half his income. But he remains determined to pay his own way. Responsible for reimbursing the federal government for the cost of his family’s flight from Turkey, Jehad declined the option to pay it back at the modest rate of $9 per month.

“The government got $200 every month. Finished. No debt,” he states proudly, wiping his hands together. To supplement his income, he has also been doing small upholstery jobs on the side. And to save on expenses, he has discovered the wonders of Kijiji. “Six chairs and table. Twenty-five dollar!” he exclaims in disbelief, pointing across his small but homey apartment to his family’s “new” dining room set.

Independent, proud, hard-working and frugal. In many ways, Jehad already seems plenty Canadian. Perhaps the fact the enormous influx of Syrian refugees no longer constitutes a federal election issue can be partly ascribed to Jehad’s impressive work ethic and gregarious nature. As well as his family’s determination to fit into Canadian society. (They will be applying for citizenship shortly.) He even claims to love winter.

“In Syria, when winter comes one day, we drive 50 kilometre to see ice and snow. Everyone excited. Here… ” Jehad tails off, searching for the words to explain how Canadians don’t seem to get quite as excited about the cold stuff. But you get the sense he’ll eventually figure it out. A new home always takes some getting used to.

Source: How Syrian refugees to Canada have fared since 2015

Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Although only covers the first four months (until May 2016), nevertheless interesting and encouraging:

Statistique Canada se penche pour la première fois sur les conditions de vie des réfugiés syriens accueillis au Canada en 2015 et 2016 en raison de la guerre faisant rage dans ce pays depuis 2011. Évaluant notamment combien d’entre eux avaient réussi à se trouver un boulot, l’organisme fédéral de statistiques a constaté que leur revenu moyen était équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés au pays.

Le Canada répondait à ce moment à une situation inquiétante : en 2015, la Syrie était le pays comptant la plus importante population de réfugiés déplacés dans le monde selon les critères du Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés.

En novembre 2015, le gouvernement du Canada avait alors dévoilé un «plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens» au pays.

Ils se sont retrouvés d’un océan à l’autre.

À l’échelle provinciale, c’est en Ontario que le nombre de réfugiés syriens était le plus important, avec 10 210, suivi du Québec, qui en comptait 5295. De ce nombre, 4265 se sont posés dans la métropole et 255 dans la région de Québec.

Au moment de compiler ces données, ces réfugiés syriens n’étaient au pays que depuis un an environ. Les données plus récentes ne sont pas encore comptabilisées et seront dévoilées plus tard.

Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ont été pris en charge par le gouvernement (53%), les autres ayant été parrainés par le secteur privé. Les conditions de vie de ces deux groupes diffèrent, notamment parce que le gouvernement a choisi des gens plus vulnérables : ils sont donc souvent plus jeunes et moins scolarisés que ceux de l’autre groupe.

Ces gens «réinstallés» au Canada entre le 1er janvier 2015 et le 10 mai 2016 étaient en bonne partie des familles avec plusieurs enfants. Ce constat est le reflet du processus de sélection particulier du Canada en lien avec cette crise humanitaire: les familles nombreuses étaient privilégiées, alors que les célibataires avaient moins de chance d’être admis.

Par «réfugiés réinstallés», Statistique Canada fait référence à ceux qui ont été sélectionnés à l’étranger alors qu’ils étaient hors de leur pays d’origine ou de résidence habituelle, et qui ont reçu le statut de résident permanent en raison d’une crainte fondée de retourner dans ce pays.

Ainsi, il a été relevé que 85% des familles syriennes accueillies au pays étaient composées d’un couple ayant des enfants, et ces familles comptaient en moyenne 2,8 enfants.

Par ailleurs, les réfugiés syriens affichaient un taux d’emploi moins élevé que les réfugiés originaires d’autres pays, principalement parce qu’ils étaient au Canada depuis moins longtemps. Au moment du recensement de 2016, sur lequel les calculs de Statistiques Canada sont fondés, les réfugiés syriens comptaient environ quatre mois de résidence au pays en moyenne, alors que les réfugiés originaires d’ailleurs en comptaient le double en moyenne. Ces chiffres pourraient donc changer lors de la prochaine compilation des données.

«L’insertion sur le marché du travail constitue une étape importante pour les immigrants récents en général et pour les réfugiés en particulier, lesquels font face à d’importants défis en raison, notamment, de caractéristiques socioéconomiques particulières, ainsi que des conditions, souvent tragiques, qui les ont menés à quitter leur pays d’origine», est-il noté dans l’analyse.

La méconnaissance par plusieurs des langues officielles du pays rendait aussi plus difficile leur arrivée sur le marché du travail. Un peu plus de la moitié des réfugiés syriens ne connaissaient ni le français ni l’anglais au moment du recensement de 2016.

Plus précisément, environ 20% des réfugiés syriens pris en charge par le gouvernement connaissaient le français ou l’anglais, comparativement à 67% de ceux parrainés par le secteur privé.

Mais une fois ce facteur linguistique pris en compte, ainsi que d’autres différences sociodémographiques, les réfugiés syriens étaient autant susceptibles de travailler que les réfugiés en provenance d’autres pays, conclut Statistique Canada.

Le taux d’emploi était plus élevé parmi les réfugiés admis en 2015, ce qui démontre que la durée de résidence a une incidence sur le degré de participation au marché du travail, note Statistique Canada.

Et leur revenu moyen annuel est équivalent à celui des autres réfugiés, variant de 15 000 $ à 20 000 $ en 2016 pour les Syriens.

Ceux pris en charge par le gouvernement avaient un revenu annuel un peu plus élevé (20 000 $) que ceux parrainés par le privé (15 600 $). Leurs revenus annuels étaient même plus élevés que ceux en provenance d’autres pays.

En 2015, le gouvernement canadien avait annoncé un plan visant à réinstaller 25 000 réfugiés syriens au Canada avant la fin de février 2016. Après, le Canada a continué d’accueillir des réfugiés syriens, principalement au moyen du parrainage par le secteur privé. Au total, près de 60 000 ont été réinstallés au Canada depuis 2015, est-il précisé dans la note explicative des résultats.

Source: Réfugiés syriens au Canada: leurs revenus sont équivalents

Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

To be fair to the government, the Syrian refugee program was set up with better outcome tracking in place, to allow for a higher quality evaluation at the five-year mark. Census 2021 will also provide a good sense of how well Syrian refugees have done, both PSRs and GARs.

I suspect that some of the lack of interim information may reflect the pressures for regular data on asylum seekers; indeed while monthly operational data is updated regularly, quarterly and annual reporting is slower (e.g., quarterly citizenship operational data dates from June 2017):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to welcome 25,000 refugees from Syria was aimed at showing voters his compassion. The followup photo opportunities he arranged in 2015 with smiling Syrian refugees, such as doctors, drew international headlines.

Once in power, Trudeau’s Liberals switched the name of the Immigration Department to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, to highlight their concern for those forced to leave chaotic home countries, especially Syria.

Given the grand gestures, you would be forgiven for believing the federal Liberals and the department responsible for refugees would be tracking the fate of the tens of the thousands of struggling Syrians that Canada has recently taken in.

But, after more than two weeks of inquiries by Postmedia, a media relations officer acknowledged the department has not produced any report in almost two years on the about 50,000 Syrian refugees now in Canada.

Canada’s auditor general is among the unamused. The Liberals had a plan to monitor whether the mostly Arabic-speaking refugees were learning English, working, receiving social assistance and going to school, but the government has failed to follow through, said auditor general Michael Ferguson. It is Ottawa’s responsibility, he said, to make sure Syrians refugees “integrate into Canadian society.”

The federal Liberals are not following the more transparent approach of Sweden and Germany, which took in the largest numbers of the 2.6 million mostly-Syrian asylum seekers who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016. The governments of those countries are providing extensive data on refugee outcomes, in addition to launching waves of job-training programs.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did, to be fair, release a one-year-after report on Syrian refugees in December, 2016. It was moderately helpful, since it showed half the privately sponsored refugees had jobs in Canada. But employment fell to 10 per cent among the larger cohort of “government-assisted” refugees, who are typically less educated and often illiterate.

The early Ottawa report also touched on how, after refugees’ first year in Canada, they are cut off from direct stipends from the federal government.

How have things gone for Syrian refugees in Canada in the almost two years since that lone departmental report? No one really knows. That’s unlike in Sweden and Germany, where refugee programs are increasingly thorny electoral issues.

Sweden has discovered, for instance, that, despite creating hundreds of “fast-track” job-training programs for recent refugees, only one third of those who completed a two-year full-time integration program in 2017 were working or studying three months later.

Refugees in Germany have done a bit better, but three-quarters are working in jobs needing few skills and with poor prospects. Unemployment is exceedingly high.

How is integration going in Canada?

When Postmedia sought answers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a media official provided the website of another public-relations official at another department, who recommended contacting Canadian academics, who either didn’t respond, had nothing to say or suggested contacting yet other academics. It’s known as “getting the runaround.” It may eventually bear fruit, but who knows?

One non-governmental source in B.C., however, did have some helpful informal insights about what’s happening in this  province, the destination of about one in 10 Syrian refugees.

Maggie Hosgood, who has helped coordinate more than 100 B.C. United Church congregations that have privately sponsored 65 Syrian families, said most refugees “are doing all right,” with good outcomes for children, especially girls, who attend public schools.

But most refugees, many of whom end up in Burnaby, are struggling to afford housing in hyper-costly Metro Vancouver. In addition, Hosgood estimated roughly one in four Syrian adults are on welfare.

Unlike the highly educated refugees who Trudeau mingles with for photo opportunities, most Syrian refugees have jobs that require few skills, such as cleaners or jobs in shops where they don’t have to speak English.

Many Syrians are struggling to learn English in the classroom, Hosgood said, regretting that the former federal Conservative government did away with a program in which refugees could, at the same time, learn both English and a trade.

There are positive exceptions. Some male refugees are bakers, candy makers or mechanics. One carpenter, Hosgood said, has developed a thriving business, learning English while he works. “He’s got plans.”

As German and Swedish government officials are discovering, Hosgood also confirmed many Middle Eastern “husbands don’t want their wives to work.” They think, she said, the woman should stay at home and the husband should provide for the family.

“The Canada Child Benefit has been a godsend for most families,” Hosgood said, echoing a study suggesting most Syrian parents come with three to four children, sometimes eight or 10. “Big families would be doing very well.”

Syrian mothers and fathers with four children can get about $50,000 a year in various taxpayer-funded social-service benefits. The Canada Child Benefit provides $6,400 a year for each child under six and $5,400 for children between six and 17, while provincial welfare can give about $12,000 a year to each adult.

Hosgood said many of the grateful Syrian refugees, who know how to stretch their money,  are now starting to sponsor relatives to come to Canada.

Integrating refugees into the well-off West requires playing the long game. European countries have found that refugees’ full entry into the taxpaying workforce often doesn’t approach the national average for a couple of decades.

Instead of posturing in photo opportunities, Canada’s governing politicians need to follow Europe and track what is happening on the difficult ground. It’s impossible to create effective integration programs if no one knows what’s working and what’s not.

Source: Douglas Todd: Trudeau government goes silent on Syrian refugees

‘A very critical clash of cultures’: Plea deal over honour killing threats saves Syrian couple from deportation

Interesting case and judgement and some of the integration challenges. On balance, reasonable deal.

Hopefully, lesson learned, both for the family concerned and more broadly:

A Syrian refugee couple who threatened their adult daughter with an honour killing for dating a Canadian man have made a plea deal with New Brunswick prosecutors that will save them from possible deportation back to their war-ravaged homeland.

Ahmad Ayoub, 52, and his wife Faten, 48, were freed this week after 72 days in jail, after pleading guilty to uttering threats as a summary conviction offence, and being sentenced to time served.

If they had been convicted of the more serious indictable offence of uttering threats, for which a trial was scheduled in the summer, they would have faced a sentence in the range of six months to a year, up to a maximum of two years.

More importantly, they would have faced the possibility of also being sent back to Syria, from which they escaped through Jordan, eventually settling in Fredericton in 2016, sponsored by the federal government.

“That’s the main thing that we gained,” said David Lutz, Ahmad’s lawyer. “Nobody who is a refugee wants to be convicted of any indictable offence, because it’s going to bring them under the purview of deportation.”

Lutz called the case a “very critical clash of cultures” that has sent a clear message to the Syrian community in Canada that even empty threats are taken seriously by the police and courts.

“Their words were taken literally instead of figuratively,” Lutz said. “In my interaction with the entire family, I came to the conclusion that this is a manner of speech that they never really intend to carry any of this out, but they do it so to say, ‘You should mind me, because this is what I think’.”

The Ayoubs have one adult child who remains in Jordan, and five others, one as young as 10, in Fredericton. Both have post-secondary education. Ahmad has worked in business, and Faten as a cook, but neither are employed yet in Canada.

No one answered the phone at their home on Wednesday. George Kalinowski, Faten Ayoub’s lawyer, declined to comment.

The threats were made against their daughter Bayan, 25. They were spoken in Arabic, once face to face, otherwise on the phone, and they only came to light when Bayan told her Canadian boyfriend, who encouraged her to go to police. She soon recanted, however, and was described in court by prosecutor Claude Haché as a reluctant participant in the prosecution.

“Throughout the time from which her parents were arrested and detained, (Bayan) was recanting and saying ‘All this is my fault.’ But of course, just like in domestic assaults, the police — and rightly so — don’t take the recanting seriously,” Lutz said.

Or, if they take it seriously, they see it as a symptom of the same problem, he added.

Bayan went to police in February. This prompted the threat by her mother, who urged her to tell police she lied, otherwise she would be killed. This threat was made on a phone call that Bayan recorded.

According to reporting by Don MacPherson of The Fredericton Daily Gleaner, who was in court for the sentencing, the first threat was made in April 2016, soon after the family arrived in Canada. Ahmad was angry that his daughter won an iPad in a contest, and threatened to poison her food. He also said he wanted to limit her contact with local men.

The second threat came last summer, when Bayan’s parents learned she was communicating with a Canadian man on social media, and her father said that “for his own dignity, it would be better to slaughter her,” the prosecutor said.

A third threat from Ahmad was prompted by her use of a smartphone, and his concern she was communicating with people she met at a work placement at a food bank.

Lutz said the more serious indictable offence of uttering threats is generally used in cases where there is evidence the offender had the ability or means to do it. In this case, he said their words were hyperbolic, exaggerated and non-literal.

He said the Ayoubs’ threats were “careless, bordering on reckless, and they have learned from this experience that his kind of language may be acceptable in Syria and Afghanistan, but now they know, better than most, that it’s not acceptable in Canada. And the entire Syrian community in New Brunswick knows it too.”

MacPherson’s report noted that the parents embraced their daughter outside court, and Ahmad shook her boyfriend’s hand. They will be on probation for a year.

Source: ‘A very critical clash of cultures’: Plea deal over honour killing threats saves Syrian couple from deportation

Unable to find work, many Syrian refugees reluctantly turn to social assistance – Nova Scotia

Not unexpected. Takes many refugees longer to establish themselves:

For their first year after landing in Canada, refugees are supported by either the federal government or private groups. But that support has ended for most Syrian refugees, and many of those unable to find jobs have turned to provincial social assistance.

Just shy of 1,500 Syrian refugees landed in Nova Scotia between November 2015 and July this year. Of those, more than half — 894 adults and children — were on income assistance as of late September, according to the province’s Department of Community Services.

Syrian refugees represent about two per cent of the total number of Nova Scotians receiving such benefits. Income assistance in Nova Scotia includes $620 a month for shelter for a family of three or more, and an additional $275 per adult and $133 per child each month for personal expenses. Families may also qualify for the Canada child benefit program.

The problem for many refugees who haven’t found work is a lack of English-language skills. Another is having Syrian work or educational credentials that aren’t recognized in Canada.

via Unable to find work, many Syrian refugees reluctantly turn to social assistance – Nova Scotia – CBC News

A [Kellie Leitch] Tweet Stirs Up Canada’s Immigration Debate – The New York Times

Why does it take the NYT to report this? How did the Canadian media (to my knowledge) miss this important background:

Mr. Rafia and his wife, Raghda Aldndal, were the subject of a sensitive and probing documentary about Canada’s Syrian refugees, produced by two Australian filmmakers last year. The film, “Canada’s Open House,” gives an unusual opportunity to look more deeply into the case.

Canada’s Open House Video by SBS Dateline

Dawn Burke, chairwoman of the group that sponsored the Rafia family in the small town of Chipman, New Brunswick, said she used interpreters multiple times to explain Canadian laws, including those against domestic violence, to Mr. Rafia.

The larger issue that the case illustrates, said one of the filmmakers, Amos Roberts, is the difficulty that many older refugees, particularly men, face in adapting to new lives in a foreign culture. More than 40,000 Syrian refugees have settled in Canada, almost half of them sponsored privately by ordinary citizens like Ms. Burke.

“To expect new immigrants, especially refugees, to adapt within a year or two is mind-boggling,” said Professor Hamza, the interpreter.

“You feel like a stranger,” Mr. Rafia said in the documentary, which was made shortly after the family’s arrival. “Guantánamo Bay is a prison on an island. It’s the same here.”

The couple’s arranged marriage was already troubled in Syria, and Mr. Rafia admitted early on that he had beaten his wife in the past, Ms. Burke said.

“We made it very clear that he was not allowed to hit his wife,” she added.

The family eventually moved to Fredericton, a city where they would be closer to a Syrian community and jobs were more plentiful. But the marriage did not improve and on May 18, Ms. Aldndal showed up at a Fredericton hospital with injuries from a beating. Mr. Rafia was arrested and pleaded guilty on May 26.

Right-leaning media picked up the story, accusing Canadian liberals of welcoming wolves in sheep’s clothing.

But few who understand the case see it as an indictment of Canada’s multicultural immigration policies or its progressive refugee outreach. “It’s not a legacy. It’s an exception,” Ms. Burke said, referring to the line that Ms. Leitch posted.

Mr. Roberts, the filmmaker, said it was “horrifying to see this one incident become a useful bit of propaganda” for anti-immigration forces.

Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’ – The New York Times

Good long and nuanced read on the challenges of one Syrian family and their Canadian sponsors:

One year after Canada embraced Syrian refugees like no other country, a reckoning was underway.

Ordinary Canadians had essentially adopted thousands of Syrian families, donating a year of their time and money to guide them into new lives just as many other countries shunned them. Some citizens already considered the project a humanitarian triumph; others believed the Syrians would end up isolated and adrift, stuck on welfare or worse. As 2016 turned to 2017 and the yearlong commitments began to expire, the question of how the newcomers would fare acquired a national nickname: Month 13, when the Syrians would try to stand on their own.

On a frozen January afternoon, Liz Stark, a no-nonsense retired teacher, bustled into a modest apartment on the east side of this city, unusually anxious. She and her friends had poured themselves into resettling Mouhamad and Wissam al-Hajj, a former farmer and his wife, and their four children, becoming so close that they referred to one another as substitute grandparents, parents and children.

But the improvised family had a deadline. In two weeks, the sponsorship agreement would end. The Canadians would stop paying for rent and other basics. They would no longer manage the newcomers’ bank account and budget. Ms. Stark was adding Mr. Hajj’s name to the apartment lease, the first step in removing her own.

“The honeymoon is over,” she said later.

That afternoon, her mind was on forms, checks and her to-do list. But she knew that her little group of grandmothers, retirees and book club friends was swimming against a global surge of skepticism, even hatred, toward immigrants and refugees. The president of the superpower to the south was moving to block Syrians and cut back its refugee program. Desperate migrants were crossing into Canada on foot. Stay-out-of-our-country sentiment was reshaping Europe’s political map. In a few days, an anti-Muslim gunman would slaughter worshipers at a Quebec City mosque.

Ms. Stark and her group were betting that much of the world was wrong — that with enough support, poor Muslims from rural Syria could adapt, belong and eventually prosper and contribute in Canada. Against that backdrop, every meeting, decision and bit of progress felt heightened: Would the family succeed?

Ms. Stark’s most crucial task that day was ushering the Syrian couple to a budget tutorial. Banks were new to them. So were A.T.M. cards. Because the sponsors paid their rent and often accompanied them to make withdrawals, the couple had little sense of how to manage money in a bank account.

Some of Canada’s new Syrian refugees had university degrees, professional skills, fledgling businesses already up and running. But the Hajjes could not read or write, even in Arabic. After a year of grinding English study, Mr. Hajj, 36, struggled to get the new words out. He longed to scan a supermarket label or road sign with ease and had grown increasingly upset about his second-grade education, understanding how inadequate it would prove in the years to come.

Documents reveal why Canada rejected dozens of Syrian refugee claimants

Interesting insights into how the vetting and selection process worked:

One had been a senior government official complicit in human rights abuses. Three had been involved in “subversion by force.” Another was considered a danger to the security of Canada.

Government documents obtained by the National Post reveal why Canada rejected dozens of Syrians as refugees, and provide a “high-level overview” of the backgrounds of those who were selected.

The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada documents, released under the Access to Information Act, summarize the results of interviews of Syrian refugees conducted by visa officers in Beirut.

The refusal rate for Syrian refugees was 4 per cent according to the documents, which, though released only recently, date to the early stages of the Syrian refugee program, when the Liberal government was trying to fulfill a campaign promise to resettle 25,000 by the end of 2015.

During the first month the Liberals were in office, Canadian visa officers refused Syrian refugee claimants 35 times for everything from failing to answer questions truthfully to uncertainty about their identities.

Between 2014 and Nov. 17, 2015 83 applicants were refused — five of those for security reasons. (Because some may have been rejected for more than one reason, it is unclear exactly how many Syrians were turned away in total.)

According to the documents, the Syrians accepted as refugees came from five areas: Aleppo, Hassakeh, Damascus, Homs and the Dara’a and Sweida region along the Jordanian border in the south.

Those from Aleppo were “virtually all” Armenian families with one or two children. Most were “self-employed businessmen and tradesmen (welders, mechanic, jewelers) with moderate to high levels of wealth,” it said.

The oft repeated narrative with this group was that they were forced to take flight very suddenly, in the middle of the night or early morning upon discovering that the Daesh (ISIL) was marching on their town or village

They tended to be from neighbourhoods close to Aleppo’s old city, near the frontline between government and opposition forces. Most had fled Syria in 2012, although some had stayed until as late as 2014 because they didn’t have the money or needed to care for elderly family members.

“Those who stayed longer tended to float between neighbourhoods staying with different family members. They moved as the fighting moved and intensified in different parts of the city,” a report on the interviews said.

They cited their reasons for leaving Syria as the complete lack of security. “There was no water or power, and regular shelling of neighbourhoods. There were a few accounts of client, client family members, or neighbours having been kidnapped and ransomed.”

In Beirut, most found work in their trades while others were employed part-time at places such as restaurants. Those lacking money or jobs “tended to migrate back and forth between Lebanon and Syria,” the report said.

Source: Documents reveal why Canada rejected dozens of Syrian refugee claimants | National Post

Turkey begins process to give citizenship to eligible Syrian refugees | TRT World

Skills-based naturalization policy:

Turkey has begun the process of giving citizenship to some of the 3 million Syrian refugees living on its soil.

European countries are attracting Syrians with expertise and those with skills and capital.

It’s all part of a move announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give some of Turkey’s 3 million Syrian refugees citizenship.

Those who choose to be naturalised have to offer a skill set that’s valuable to Turkey.

Syrians in Turkey work in all kinds of fields.

And some of the most successful ones are able to employ others, both Syrians and Turks, in different workplaces.

The idea is for these successful people to be given the opportunity to apply for Turkish citizenship, at least in the first phase.

If the first phase is successful, more skilled Syrians may be invited to apply.

Those who have refugee status and are not eligible for citizeship, will retain their current status.

Source: Turkey begins process to give citizenship to eligible Syrian refugees | TRT World