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Syrian Refugees in Canada

Canada was one of the most active states in the international humanitarian support of the Syrian population. In response to the conflict, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, made an electoral promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees.

The following text has been written by Craig Damian Smith, CERC in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University, CA.

Canada was one of the most active states in the international humanitarian support of the Syrian population. In response to the conflict, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, made an electoral promise to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. The resettlement plan was called the Operation Syrian Refugees (OSR), with an expected completion time of 100 days (Government of Canada, 2019). In 2016 the goal was met and further expanded to reach 50,000 refugees in the imminent future. In 2021, according to the latest governmental data, Canada resettled 44,620 Syrian refugees, 3,000 almost reaching the original goal (Government of Canada, 2021).

Canada’s Plan for Syrian Refugees

Such a significant intake of refugees followed a specific governmental plan. The process of identification and arrival was approved by Trudeau’s Liberal government and divided into five phases. These were: Identifying Syrian refugees to come to Canada; Processing Syrian refugees overseas; Transportation to Canada; Welcoming in Canada; Settlement and community integration.

Following the entry into the country, refugees were to be helped settle by both the government and volunteer organizations. Settlement and housing were, for the most part, organized beforehand for the newcomers. It relied on refugees’ relatives residing in Canada, public housing availability, or private sponsorship. The last option allowed for refugees to be privately sponsored by volunteers, which would oversee their housing needs. After accommodation, the Government of Canada coordinated long-term integration for the two most populated provinces, Ontario and Quebec, which received most Syrian refugees. Following arrival, immediate help was offered to provide items such as clothing – in particular, winter coats that crucial for the cold season – furniture and so on.

Government-assisted refugees (GARs) were also provided with income support for the first 12 months since their arrival. At the same time, Syrian refugees had access to the regular settlement services the government had previously set up to facilitate integration, namely: language training, job application support and community support.

For the most part, Canada utilized pre-existing programs for refugee settlement and support. This helped save the time that would have been otherwise necessary to setup, fund, and organize these processes, which was instead allocated directly to implementing them.

Syrian Refugee Employment in Canada

The latest data shows that Syrian refugees in Canada have better chances at employment and are earning significantly better than in 2016. Still, when compared to the whole, data on employment is not ideal. According to 2019 census data, only 24% of adult male Syrian refugees have found an occupation. For comparison, adult male refugees from other countries have a 39% average of employment, indicating a significant negative disparity (Statistics Canada, 2019). This could be due to the sheer number of people entering in a short amount of time. A possibility is that job demand was not able to react quickly enough to facilitate large-scale employment.

In 2019, Canada allowed fast-tracking for asylum claims from Syria and 13 other countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, and Yemen (Toronto Star, 2019).

This procedure uses a “file-review process”, which allows a decision to be made without a hearing for specific and ‘less complex’ cases. In some instances, a quicker acceptance process facilitated the entry of individuals who had, for example, a lower level of education and, in some cases, no knowledge of English – thus, refugees had to learn it before applying for jobs. At the same time, it allowed the intake of the most vulnerable sections of the Syrian refugee population.

Nevertheless, the Canadian approach to the resettlement of Syrian refugees was not without its faults. Several criticisms were voiced, namely concerning the mistakes made during the resettlement process.

Private sponsor groups spoke against the cuts to the resources allocated for the processing of Syrian refugees. At the time, not all settlement agencies were prepared to make front to the rapid intake of GARs. Another critique surrounded the amount of time it took to match refugees with private sponsors. This was especially damaging because it left several refugee families indefinitely housed in hotels. Another concern was voiced by Senator Munson, who criticized the inadequate access refugees had to English and French language courses, and to mental health support.

Evaluating Canada’s approach to the settlement of Syrian refugees reveals a flawed, yet overall positive example. According to the 2019 Syrian Outcomes governmental report, Syrians are integrating into their new communities and have better financial stability (Syrian Outcomes Report, 2019).

© Craig Damian Smith
This article is from the free online

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