Syrian Refugee Lived Experience Project
Canada is a place populated mostly of people who have been arriving from elsewhere for almost 400 years, coming for economic opportunity, to join family or as refugees. In 2015, through an unprecedented national mobilization of government, the settlement sector and Canadian citizens, the country opened its doors to accept refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, resettling close to 40,000 refugees within the space of a year. How have these refugees fared in their new country and lives, and what can be learned from their experience that might benefit future refugees? These questions were addressed through a national research study conducted in 2020-21, consisting of in-depth interviews with a representative sample of 305 Syrian refugees who arrived in the 2015-16 period.
The research reveals that this cohort of Syrian refugees, as a whole, has successfully resettled in Canada in just a few years following their arrival in the country. Many encountered early challenges – as any such group of refugees would – in terms of navigating a foreign language, finding employment, dealing with the practicalities of finding a place to live and setting up a household, finding schools for children, and making sense of an unfamiliar culture. Most overcame or made significant progress in meeting these and other challenges, and – the diversity of this cohort in terms of background and circumstances notwithstanding – the predominant picture is one of people who have established new lives in a country they now consider their home. These findings largely confirm and expand upon previous research conducted in the initial years of this cohort’s time in Canada.
Canada is a nation of immigrants, from its historic roots dating back more than 400 years to the present day. The country accepts roughly 300,000 immigrants each year, from a wide range of countries. The majority of newcomers arrive as part of the economic or family class, but some come to Canada as refugees fleeing conflict, persecution and threats to their lives. In the past few years, the most significant source of refugees has been Syrians seeking a safe home from the civil war that has ravaged their country for several years. In response, the federal government in 2015 significantly expanded the intake of Syrian refugees through both government and private sponsorship. Less than two years later, close to 45,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, which is the most substantial intake of refugees over a short period from one source since the Vietnamese sponsorship program in the late 1970s.
Absorbing such a large number of refugees in such a short time has presented major challenges for government agencies in terms security, logistics, and providing the necessary supports for newcomers arriving from a very different culture and with few resources. And the transition has been very challenging for the refugees themselves, faced with such a dramatic change in circumstances even if voluntarily chosen. These challenges notwithstanding, the process has largely worked in the short term, and past history suggests most of these refugees will successfully adapt to their new homeland over time.
The purpose of this research is to generate new, policy-relevant insights into the lived experience of Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada in 2015-16, which can provide direct benefits in terms of guiding policy and settlement programming, building capacity for further research, and improving the public narrative around Syrian refugees in Canada. The longer term goal of the study is to contribute to more positive outcomes for Syrian refugees in terms of successful settlement and integration into Canadian society, and for other Canadians in terms of broader understanding and acceptance of this population within the country.
The study builds upon previous research (e.g., internal government research, SSHRC-funded studies), to generate a more comprehensive picture of the Syrian refugee experience in Canada through an approach that is both empirically-based (representative of the target population) and in-depth (using qualitative methods), to delve deeper into important issues that have been identified but not yet fully understood, using a research model used successfully with other populations in Canada.
The research is also intended to serve as a catalyst for stakeholders currently involved with Syrian refugees (e.g., settlement agencies, academic researchers, sponsor groups, refugees), by serving as a focal point for stakeholders to gain new understanding, practical guidance, and the basis for creating new forums for engagement and activity.
READ PROJECT OVERVIEW
For more information:
Jobran Khanji, Community Outreach Coordinator