Maryam and Nore Kasmeih wait for Syrian refugees at the airport. Their mother came to Canada 15 years ago from Syria and their family that was in Syria fled to Turkey.
The civil war that raged through Syria has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. Although a lack of official documents and language problems sometimes hinder refugees, many programs are available which help refugees to integrate into Canadian society more smoothly.
Due to the civil war that started in 2011, over 12 million Syrians were displaced and therefore lost access to basic necessities as a result. Over half of Syria’s population either lost their homes and still stayed in Syria or immigrated to a neighbouring country. Although refugees tend to be highly educated, skilled professionals, due to a lack of professional or educational documentation and work permits it is nearly impossible for refugees to complete their education or resume working in their new country. For example, if a refugee had their university transcript and a diploma in an unsealed envelope, the transcript wouldn’t be valid because the envelope wasn’t sealed. Thankfully, not all jobs require official transcripts and more employers are understanding with refugees than not.
Language problems also hinder refugees from successfully integrating into Canadian society. In order to help Syrians, Canada lowered its admission requirements: no official language of Canada skills was necessary, more young families and men not of working age were admitted, and standards for education were also lowered. More than half of Syrian refugees could not speak either English or French, compared to just 28% of refugees from other countries.
An important initiative taken by the government of Canada in November 2015 was to admit over 25,000 Syrian refugees in search of a better life by February 2016. This figure included both privately-sponsored and government-sponsored refugees.
One of the programs available to help Syrian refugees and their families is the B.C. Newcomer Camp. Launched in 2016, B.C. Newcomer Camp is a free summer camp for refugee children. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the program moved online this summer and 62 children took part in it. Each participant gets a tablet to keep, to be used both during the camp and to help their families. New families often don’t have access to a computer, so the tablet is useful for job hunting, school work, and other practical things. Another 20 children were left on the waiting list due to a lack of funding for more tablets.
The camp is now expanding and creating two more programs: Newcomers to Notes, for ages seven to fourteen, and Welcome to Canada After School Program, for ages six to sixteen. The music program, developed by students attending the University of British Columbia, takes place in person on Saturdays in a church in Surrey, B.C. In different sessions, instructors teach up to five children at a time how to play an electric piano.
This form of musical expression helps refugee children to express their emotions in a creative way while allowing them to alleviate any emotional trauma they may be experiencing at the same time. The Welcome to Canada After School Program plans to have two, 90-minute sessions per week. After committing for three months, children are given a tablet and the program commences online.
The program is designed to help kids learn about Canada while improving their English and playing fun games. The children meet other kids who’ve gone through similar experiences and with that shared knowledge it is easier to bond and make friends. These programs help newcomers to feel more welcome while helping them to successfully integrate into society. B.C. Newcomer Camp is seeking to raise $40,000 for laptops and to support its programs. These programs really are essential because newcomers often don’t speak English or French and can’t access technology to find a job, learn English, and rebuild their lives in Canada, therefore putting them at a disadvantage from the beginning.
Although Syrian refugees come to Canada knowing no one and sometimes not able to speak an official language, the multitude and variety of programs available, help to resolve these problems successfully. During the ongoing pandemic, Syrian refugees feel even more isolated from society and online programs help to alleviate this concern as well.
Global Affairs Canada. “Canada’s Response to the Conflict in Syria.” GAC, 2016, http://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/response_conflict-reponse_conflits/crisis-crises/conflict_syria-syrie.aspx?lang=eng. Accessed 13 Oct. 2020.
Griffin, Kevin. “Refugee Kids Get A Boost From Evolving Online Camp.” The Vancouver Sun, 13 Oct. 2020, p. A1,2.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. “Canada’s Syrian Commitments – Canada.Ca.” Canada.Ca, 2015, http://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/welcome-syrian-refugees/canada-commitment.html. Accessed 13 Oct. 2020.
Peter Shawn Taylor. “How Syrian Refugees to Canada Have Fared since 2015 – Macleans.Ca.” Macleans.Ca, 21 May 2019, http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/how-syrian-refugees-to-canada-have-fared-since-2015/. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.
Rishi Iyengar. “Canada Has Officially Met Its Target of Resettling 25,000 Syrian Refugees.” Time, Time, Mar. 2016, time.com/4242467/canada-refugee-target/. Accessed 13 Oct. 2020.
Roach, Eric. “Syrian Refugees in Canada: Updates and Outcomes.” WENR, 17 Sept. 2019, wenr.wes.org/2019/09/syrian-refugees-in-canada-updates-and-outcomes. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.
“Syrian Civil War | Facts & Timeline | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2020, http://www.britannica.com/event/Syrian-Civil-War. Accessed 13 Oct. 2020.“UNHCR Global Trends – Forced Displacement in 2016.” UNHCR Global Trends – Forced Displacement in 2016, 14 Sept. 2017, http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2016/. Accessed 12 Oct. 2020.
About the Author
Liliana Chow is a high school student in BC, Canada. Liliana aspires to inspire youth into taking initiative to help solve problems that are close to their hearts. Liliana is particularly interested in slowing climate change, preventing genocides and human rights violations, and raising awareness about poverty in developed countries.