It’s been two years since more than 4,000 refugees re-settled in B.C., escaping the ongoing civil war in Syria.
In a new report this week by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., Syrian refugees in this province say they’ve been getting acquainted with the culture, have found sustainable work, and hope to one day become Canadian citizens.
Overall, the report suggests most refugees have had a positive experience with new neighbours and co-workers, with many making non-Syrian friends. About 95 per cent are glad they came to Canada, and all but three per cent intend to become a citizen.
When most refugees arrived, they were placed in temporary housing in 65 cities around B.C. and given access to food banks. Of the 4,400 to get here, 920 were privately sponsored.
Twenty-seven per cent of refugees are now working in full-time jobs, the report said, while 13 per cent hold part-time jobs.
About half, or 56 per cent, still regularly rely on their local food bank.
On the other side, the report outlined how it’s been a difficult transition for some after witnessing extreme violence, chaos and all that comes with living in the middle of a civil war.
“While there are several positive elements that indicate greater integration after two years in Canada, we cannot lose sight of a minority of Syrians who continue to struggle for various reasons,” the report read.
The vast majority, or 80 per cent, report their current health is good, but another 11 per cent said their family is depressed. Of that group, more than half said their emotional health had worsened over the last year.
Approximately one-third report having no proficiency in English.
And with families larger than the typical Canadian family, with six to 10 people under one roof, the report said transportation is often tricky for parents taking several children to school, medical appointments and social outings.
Canada’s Syrian refugee program paves way for future
The immigration society has made nine recommendations in how future refugee programs can be improved.
It suggests implementing an asset-based pre-arrival assessment that would look at a refugee’s work experience, skills and abilities to prepare the potential for work ahead of arrival.
It also suggests allowing extended family to move during resettlement, mitigating financial barriers to post-secondary education through changes to the BC Student Assistance program, and creating a low-income transportation fund.
Expanding mental health-related coverage from one year to three years is also on the list.
“The horrific migration-related trauma of living through a civil war and years in an urban or closed refugee camps call for new national models of support,” the report said.
“If Canada continues to select special refugee populations for resettlement like the Syrians or more recently the survivors of Daesh and the Yazidis, we urgently need a PanCanadian settlement-informed refugee trauma program funded in large part by the federal government through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.”