December 10th, 2016, marked the one year anniversary of Canada welcoming the first group of Syrians at Toronto’s Pearson airport. The Syrians were flown over on Canadian government planes from refugee camps. 163 refugees landed in Canada and were welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister John McCallum, and other cabinet members, along with supportive Canadian citizens. The program had promised to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. From November 2015 until December 2016, 36,000 refugees have been welcomed into Canada.
One year ago today, we welcomed the first Syrian refugees to their new home in Canada. pic.twitter.com/sNivcw5owb
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) December 10, 2016
On Sunday December 11th, 2016, an event was held in Montreal to mark the anniversary by a gathering of hundreds of Syrian refugees.
“At a time when many countries closed their doors to refugees, we in Canada said, ‘come on in, you’re welcome’,” Immigration Minister John McCallum said at the event.
At the event, McCallum and other political leaders acknowledged that there are still many challenges needed to be faced concerning the Syrian refugees. Despite 36,000 refugees welcomed into Canada since November 2015, many of them are still waiting to be reunited with family members that are still in Syria. Some of them are waiting for approval from the Canadian government for admission into the country. There are almost 19,000 applications that still need to be processed, and another 4,124 applicants that have been approved but have yet to arrive in Canada.
The Syrians have spent the first year learning new languages and settling into their new homes. The current challenge for them now is trying to become employed, and many have voiced their thoughts on how hard it is to join the labour market.
Noura Alissa, a 25-year-old refugee, said in an interview, “Trying to find a job while learning French has been difficult, but I am trying.”
Some improvements have been made to the resettlement process, such as the time it takes to bring a spouse over being cut in half from two years to one year, and the amount of time it takes to get a resident card being reduced. Quebec also created a program to help refugees find work, with 333 companies taking part.
Another difficulty that the Syrians are facing is sponsorship money. After the one-year mark, which is this month, the federal government’s monthly living allowance ends for many families. They must now support themselves or rely on provincial social assistance. Many of the refugees that were taken in by the province received welfare and funds to help them get through their first year in Quebec or other parts of Canada. Other refugees weren’t so lucky: they were sponsored by private citizens in Canada who meant well and wanted to help the refugees live in the new country, but they didn’t have the funds or the means to support and care for them properly.
“Some families had nothing to eat, no furniture, often not even appliances,” said Marie Bourret, co-ordinator with CLICS Laval, a volunteer centre helping refugees settle into Quebec. “We’ve had people come to us who had been here five months and didn’t even have a refrigerator.”
Bourret also mentioned how they had schools call them to tell them that the Syrian kids were coming in with nothing to eat, and others called to tell them that they weren’t able to pay their rent.
Now, Canada’s Senate’s committee on human rights is pushing the federal government to help the Syrians with language training, mental health services, and financial support to ease the new phase of the resettlement process for refugees.
“We can’t abandon them. We can’t let indifference set in. We need to do more to help them in their next resettlement steps,” said committee chair Jim Munson at a news conference in Ottawa.
While the federal income support ends this month for the Syrian refugees, access to settlement support and services will continue, along with language training and employment-related services.
Hopefully the Syrians will continue to reign support from their new fellow Canadians, and will be given the proper care and means to succeed in their new country.