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

Ottawa ends program reuniting Syrian refugees with relatives in Canada

Reasonable given lack of sponsors who may be using other avenues:

The federal government has quietly cancelled a program that matched private Canadian sponsors with Syrian refugees abroad who have relatives in Canada because of low sponsor turnout.

The Syrian Family Links Initiative was discontinued on Dec. 31. While families in Canada had registered more than 8,000 people for the program, only 36 private sponsors applied, for a total of 127 refugees.

“Given the ongoing crisis in Syria, the response by Syrian families in Canada to Family Links has been overwhelming, with 8,025 Syrian refugee family members being registered for sponsorship. Unfortunately, the number of refugees registered far exceeded the number of sponsors available,” read Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website.

“As a result, the Syrian Family Links Initiative will be discontinued on December 31, 2016, due to the low turn-out of sponsors.”

The immigration department said many private sponsors already knew Syrian refugees in Canada with displaced family members overseas, and therefore few of them used Family Links. However, some people involved in refugee sponsorship said the program was not promoted enough.

The government does not track how many Syrian refugees sponsored through Family Links have arrived in Canada,. Nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees had landed in Canada as of Jan. 2 – 21,751 government assisted, 13,997 privately sponsored and 3,923 through a blended program of private and government sponsorship.

Source: Ottawa ends program reuniting Syrian refugees with relatives in Canada – The Globe and Mail

Last-minute wave of Syrian refugees lets Liberals keep their promise – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Another commitment met:

A trickle of incoming Syrian refugees turned to a stream late last year, helping the federal government to check off one of the key targets from its 2015 election campaign.

Nearly 2,000 government-supported Syrian refugees arrived in Canada in mid-December, bringing the total to more than 25,000 since the Liberal government took power in 2015 and began to admit thousands of people displaced and endangered by the turmoil in and around the Middle Eastern country.

The surge of new arrivals in late 2016 came thanks in part to the government taking a longer look at “a number of” refugee applications from earlier in the year for security or medical reasons, delaying travel to Canada that may otherwise have occurred earlier, according to departmental officials.

People in the refugee resettlement sector were preparing for the December arrivals, said one sector executive. The executive and another said the government tipped them off ahead of time about the expected late-year surge. They said the few thousand government-supported refugees who arrived in the last couple of months of 2016 was nothing compared to the influx in the first two months of the year, when the government pressed to meet its target of bringing in 25,000 refugees through both private and government streams.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada could not provide statistics by press time on how many refugee applications required more time for security or medical screening, or how many of those cases were rejected. Spokesperson Nancy Chan wrote that those individuals had “more complex” cases that required more time to evaluate, but added the government used the same security and health screens for all Syrian refugees.

The government had promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees through its government-assisted and blended refugee programs by the end of the year—not be confused with an earlier target of 25,000 Syrians from private and government streams by the end of February.

…It appeared through much of last year that the government would miss its end-of-year 25,000-person goal, perhaps badly. About 11 new Syrian refugees were entering Canada each day on average between March and the beginning of August, far off the pace needed for the government to hit the target it was then several thousand people shy of, according to data published by the department roughly every week.

However, the number of refugees arriving in Canada rose steadily in the finals months of 2016. About 56 Syrians arrived per day on average in mid-November; that jumped to an average of 77 per day by Dec. 4, then 136 per day between Dec. 11 and Dec. 19, when the government surpassed its target.

The federal immigration department says the surge in new arrivals late in the year was not out of the ordinary; immigration officials worked steadily over the months to meet their year-end target, and there is typically a three-to-six-month delay between when applicants are given their first interview and the time they arrive in Canada, according to emailed responses from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada spokespeople.

The government “made it clear” early on to refugee resettlement organizations that there would be a wave of refugees arriving late in the year, said Louisa Taylor, director of Ottawa’s Refugee 613, a coalition of groups that support refugees.

Syrian refugees need better ways to reconnect with their families 

One view by Anneke Smit, Gemma Smyth and Jillian Rogin:

We know that in order to bring in more than 25,000 refugees in just a couple of months, complicated files were avoided, as were single young male refugees. Therefore, some of the most vulnerable were not offered resettlement, even when other members of the family were. In the case of the refugees our group is sponsoring, 10 family members were living together for years under one roof in Lebanon. The nuclear family of husband, wife and four young children was selected for resettlement while the other family members – elderly parents, orphaned nephew, and brother aged 18 – were not. Neither was another sibling, her spouse and young children. Given the limited options for family reunification after arrival in Canada, this selective approach is particularly distressing.

As a result, Syrian refugees will have to look to private sponsorship (groups of five, for example) as their only hope for extended family reunification. This process is complex and financially out of reach for most resettled refugees for at least several years. In the case of “our” family, they found in us a sponsor group willing to raise the funds and sponsor their most vulnerable family members. But that shouldn’t have been necessary had the family been resettled together, or if family reunification channels were more expansive.

This “echo effect” of our massive and laudable Syrian resettlement effort is not going away. During the Kosovo refugee resettlement in 1999, Canada allowed for reunification of a wide array of extended family members of Kosovars already in Canada. We can do the same again today. Along with adequate language training, employment support, mental health counselling and other settlement services, reuniting families is a key part of ensuring this was a job well done.

Source: Syrian refugees need better ways to reconnect with their families – The Globe and Mail