Settlement agencies and other organizations are busy ramping up their services to prepare for the 10,000 Syrians that will arrive in Canada by the end of the year.
According to Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, the province is preparing for 1,500 to 2,000 Syrian refugees in the next few months. The province already committed $1.4 million earlier this year for Syrian refugees.
Executive director of the Moose Jaw Multicultural Council (MJMC), Stefanie Palmer, says it has an existing resettlement assistance agency program in place, but this sort of volume is unprecedented.
“This is what we do day in, day out. Just going to be working on a larger scale on this project,” says Palmer.
Supporting integration upon arrival
From picking up the refugees from the airport to helping them find permanent housing, the MJMC helps government sponsored immigrants settle into the community. The Council also makes referrals to services immigrants may need in the community.
Over the next few months, the incoming refugees will need support finding jobs. Volunteers will be busy teaching them about the Canadian workplace culture and labour laws as well as giving resume-writing and job interview advice.
“Our biggest goal is community integration,” Palmer says.
Beyond the regular classes and services, the council hopes to foster integration through social initiatives.
“We have a community cafe where we connect newcomers and community members to have coffee and get to know each other and different cultures,” says Palmer.
“Our biggest goal is community integration.”
The Winnipeg English Language Assessment and Referral Centre (WELARC) also hopes to help new arrivals become established in the community as soon as possible by referring them to language training programs.
After interviewing someone to assess their language skills and goals, WELARC can tell them about suitable opportunities available and make referrals to appropriate programs.
Debra Schweyer, Executive Director of WELARC, says the organization wants to make sure that they have enough classrooms space available so that refugees can begin learning as soon as possible and can get a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Skills training and job placement
While most refugees who arrive in Canada with a professional degree do want to continue in their profession, Schweyer says that’s not always the case.
“Oddly enough, I find quite interesting [that] every once in a while, somebody comes and says I was a veterinarian in my home country, but I don’t want to do that anymore,” she explains. “They say I want to start over. I say, ‘Ok, let’s figure out how you are going to do that then.’”
Over the next few months, the incoming refugees will need support finding jobs.
Part of the challenge for newcomers is that if they are professionals, depending on their specialization, they will need to go through regulatory bodies to have their credentials recognized in Canada.
About 20 per cent of people working in Canada work in regulated professions and trades, such as nursing, engineering and teaching. Each province has organizations that control licences and certificates for certain professions and trades, but licenses are often not transferable to other provinces.
Mental health aspect
For Jean McRae, any skills and language training will have to be balanced with appropriate counselling services.
McRae, who has been the Executive Director of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) for eighteen years, says many of the Syrians arriving in Canada will have been through traumatic situations.
“We’ve got people who will need a lot of trauma counselling. We are going to need support for that because that kind of support is not easy to find and it’s not easy to finance,” she says.
Any skills and language training will have to be balanced with appropriate counselling services.
Mulugeta Abai, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for the Victims of Torture, explains that the first few weeks are going to be very difficult for the newcomers.
“(It) will also be time that they are thinking about people who are left behind. So there is euphoria in the first six months but there is also going to be some sort of guilt,” he says.
He continues, “For the healing process to take, I think that community support is very important. From what we see, if it continues, it is excellent.”
Integration beyond the next few months
While settlement agencies aim to prepare government-sponsored immigrants for life in Canada within one year of arrival, that doesn’t always mean that they’ll be ready in that timeframe.
Because of this, programs at places like the Regina Immigrant Women Centre (RIWC) are available for those who need more time and support as well as for privately sponsored immigrants.
Neelu Sachdev Executive Director of the RIWC, says women in particular may need more time to settle in a new country.
“The adjustment process is different, depending on how traditional culture, their family culture is, and their religion as well,” she says.
“They may not be able to find a job after that first year or they may not be able to integrate with their children into the community, so they need more education,” says Sachdev.
Because of all these challenges and more, Palmer encourages Canadians to welcome the Syrian refugees in any way that they can.
“They’re going to be our neighbours and if you see they need a helping hand, be willing to give it to them as you would any other neighbour,” she says.
Florence Hwang is a Saskatchewan-based freelance writer. She is a media librarian who loves storytelling. She has written for La Source newspaper, CBC Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Folklore and South Asian Post.