Learning English, finding a job the next big challenges for Syrian refugees
As the one hundredth plane carrying Syrian Refugees arrives in Canada this weekend, Immigration Minister John McCallum is turning his attention to the next major challenge in Canada’s resettlement program: finding them jobs.
In a speech to the Foundation of Greater Montreal on Wednesday, McCallum said he believes there are many companies looking for the kind of skilled labour some Syrians possess, it's just a matter of them getting language training first.
That is not a small obstacle.
In our W5 profile of the Al Moulia family who arrived in Canada six months ago, access to classes teaching English turned out to be the greatest obstacle to their integration.
The eldest son, Hani, taught himself the language during the family’s three years living in a refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. He is a brilliant scholar, once one of Syria’s most promising students in physics and mathematics, so his ability to absorb English is superior to most.
His father, Mohammad, was busy helping other men build the tents which housed Syrian families in the Camp, so he didn’t have the time to absorb a new language through computers and smartphones as his son did.
And to be truthful, he didn’t have the inclination. He dropped out of high school in Syria to help his own parents with their sheep farm – it was how he provided a comfortable living later in life for his own family before the civil war destroyed everything.
Going back to school as an under-educated adult is hard for anyone, and Mohammad’s self-confidence has also suffered not being able to provide for his family.
As we visited the Al Moulias in their new Canadian home in Regina, it was clear Mohammad is the only member of his large family who is not absorbing English. As the only one with a driver’s license (the rest of his children are too young to drive, and Hany is legally blind) Mohammad is driving everyone to the schools and classes they need to attend, and has little time for his own.
He is ensuring his family integrates, at the cost of his own. Which is a significant problem. He needs to find work in six months to support his family once the financial support all refugees receive from governments or private donations expires.
Refugees are given a year to get on their feet, so every week waiting for language training is a lost opportunity. Mohammad and his wife were on the waiting list for language classes for five months.
In Regina that training is provided by the Open Door Society, a government supported agency which helps new refugees learn English, find housing, and integrate into Canadian culture.
“We currently have 40 to 50 people waiting to take classes, but that doesn't include the Syrian refugees that are currently arriving,” says Getachew Woldyesus from the Society.
The waiting list is certain to grow longer as Regina’s Open Door is now receiving as many new clients every month as it handled in all of last year.
That is placing even more pressure on the arriving refugees. With a six-month or longer wait to even start learning English, then the classes themselves, there is no time left to hunt for work before the financial help Canadians have generously provided, runs out.
W5's Hani's Journey airs this Saturday on CTV at 7 p.m.