2021 Annual Report

Syrian refugees: Integration and resilience in the first five years of settlement

The arrival of a large number of Syrian refugees from 2015-2017 was characterized by an outpouring of community support and a settlement sector challenged to respond to the increased demand for services. Using a variety of methods, from large-scale surveys to participatory photography, CYRRC researchers have carried out research to examine the experience of Syrian refugees who have settled in Canada.

Integration is a “never-ending path”.

Using a photovoice methodology, Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and colleagues learned that Syrian youth with refugee experience thought of integration in Canada as a never-ending path. Youth encountered a number of challenges on this path. Older male youth described how family responsibilities held them back from pursuing education and employment opportunities. Many female participants shared stories of discrimination and harassment, often because they wear the Hijab. 

Syrian youth who participated in a study by Dr. Susan Brigham and colleagues reported being bullied at school, and they did not feel they could speak with parents or teachers about it. Youth from Dr. April Mandrona and colleagues’ photovoice study also struggled with negative stereotypes. They found that photography provided a way for them to express their feelings, thoughts, and experiences, and enabled them to portray positive images of Syria.

Language and education create both opportunities and challenges for integration.

Learning English was an essential step to integration; however, improved language skills introduced benefits as well as challenges. As their English language skills improved, youth felt more a part of their school community and closer to their English-speaking friends; however, they also became more aware of prejudice, racism, and discrimination. 

Syrian youth who participated in the study by Dr. Susan Brigham and colleagues expressed a desire to pursue postsecondary education, but found school staff to be unsupportive. Another challenge was that their parents were unable to help with homework due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with the subjects.

Besides language acquisition, youth from Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and colleagues’ study felt that graduating high school, starting college, earning high grades, and getting a job would facilitate integration.

Social connections and access to programs are helping Syrian youth with refugee experience thrive in Canada.

Social support is an important resource for Syrian refugees. In a large-scale study of Syrian refugees, Dr. Thomas Soehl and colleagues found that those who received community support through the Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR) program were more likely to obtain higher skilled employment than those who received only government-funded integration support.

“It’s very different when community members are intervening and sharing … their experience with someone who is arriving… Specifically people … who were born here, who were raised here, they can share a very different perspective of what it’s like to be in Toronto, for example … and helping you … navigate your own path.” – Mounir Nasri, The Refuge, Ep. 6

For youth participants in Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and colleagues’ study, having a supportive family, teachers, friends, and mentors created a sense of empowerment. Youth also indicated that  meeting family, cultural, and personal expectations gave them a sense of worth and motivation.

Being able to access supportive programs was important for Syrian youth. Dr. April Mandrona and colleagues found that through the photography workshops they offered, participants gained important skills and connections that helped them in their personal lives and with school assignments. Dr. Abe Oudshoorn and colleagues also noted the importance of resources in schools and workplaces for youth’s resilience. Participants in the study by Dr. Susan Brigham and colleagues’ indicated a desire for more physical activity programs to be made available to them.

“One of the lessons learned is when the newcomers come and refugees, [is that] it’s also important to listen from them. So, SCF [Syrian Canadian Foundation] … every time we have a program in mind … I co-design the program with the participants, with the newcomers whether they’re families or youth or single mothers, to just get their input – are these topics things that you would like us to address, would you like us to add anything. This also gives them a sense of empowerment, that they have a say over what they’re willing to kind of commit to.” – Marwa Khobieh, The Refuge, Ep. 6

Main Takeaways:

Dr. Susie Brigham and colleagues created a video to share quotes from their focus group participants as they reflect on the challenges of social integration and what they learned from the resilience-building workshops.

Oudshoorn and colleagues “How Syrian Newcomer Youth Experience Integration” (2021)
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Mandrona and colleagues “Youth with Refugee Experience Share Integration Stories through PhotoVoice” (2021)
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Brigham and colleagues “Supporting Resilience of Refugee Youth and Families” (2021)
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LINC Students’ Career Goals Pathways Analysis

Researchers: Lisa Rochman1, Maria Montenegro1, Erika Goble1, Mesay Tegegne1, Timothy Anderson2, Marco Garcia Salinas1, Anna M. Janik3, and Brooke Leifso1
NorQuest College1, MacEwan University2, and Red River College3
Research Partners: NorQuest College

This study identified the most common career goal changes made by LINC students, the most common pathways for those who change their career goals, and how the LINC program and services influence career goal changes. Through the knowledge mobilization initiative of the board game, this study also increased collaboration and interest in collaborative research among LINC providers in order to improve support for newcomers’ career goals.

Labour Market Vulnerabilities of Refugees in Canada: The Impacts of Entry Program, Arrival Age, and Gender

Researchers: Monica Boyd1, and Shawn Perron1
Affiliations: University of Toronto1

This study focuses on three categories of humanitarian admissions between 1980 and 2014: government-assisted refugees (GARs), privately sponsored refugees (PSRs) and migrants who apply for asylum in Canada and become protected persons in Canada (PPC). This study asks whether mode of entry and gender shape labour market integration, thus creating economic outcome differences within the refugee population.

Developing Skills, Building Relationships: The Social and Employment Outcomes of ISANS’ Immigrant Youth Employability Program

Researchers: Catherine Bryan1, Serperi Sevgur1, Temitope Abiagom1, Nabiha Atallah2
Affiliations: Dalhousie University1, Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia2
Research Partners: ISANS

This study evaluated the outcomes and benefits of ISANS’ Immigrant Youth Employability (IYE) Program —an innovative newcomer youth employment program offering a mix of classroom learning and on-the-job training.

Pathways of Youth with Refugee Experience in Nova Scotia

Researchers: Ifeyinwa Mbakogu1, and Emily Pelley1
Affiliations: Dalhousie University1
Research Partners: ISANS, Nova Scotia Office of Immigration, Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education

This study aims to understand the challenges that youth with refugee experience (YRE) face in making the school-to-work transition, specifically looking at Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) and Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs) living both within an urban area, Halifax, and in rural areas in Nova Scotia.

An Exploration of Integration Journeys and Well-being: A YPAR Project with Syrian Refugee Youth

Researchers: Abe Oudshoorn1, Fawziah Rabiah-Mohammed1, Yasmin Hussain2, Ahmad Mouazen3, Sarah Alkik3, Diana Alaw3, Yasmin AlJabra3, Gharam Alsied3, Omar Almohamad3, Mahmoud Alzobani3
Affiliations: Western University1, the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration (MRCSSI)2, youth co-researchers3
Research Partner: MRCSSI

Syrian refugee youth (aged 15 to 22) used narrative and arts-based methods such as PhotoVoice to share their integration experiences. The project explored how integration is experienced and navigated in relation to family, peers/friendships, school, work and community.

Safe Spaces: Youth with Refugee Experience and Their Parents Harnessing Resilience

Researchers: Susan Brigham1, Bayan Khatib2, Marwa Khobeih2, and Omar Reda3
Affiliations: Mount Saint Vincent University1, The Syrian Canadian Foundation (SCF)2, and Untangled3
Research Partner: Syrian Canadian Foundation

In this study, ten workshops were organized for Arabic-speaking refugee youth and their parents. Facilitated by the Syrian Canadian Foundation and psychiatrist Dr. Omar Reda, the workshops aimed to provide a safe space for refugee families to build better inter-family understanding and integrate trauma stories to build resilience. The workshops were open to both parents; however only mothers chose to attend. The workshops were preceded and followed by focus groups with the participants.

Flash Forward Photovoice

Researchers: Dr. April Mandrona1, Bayan Khatib2, Marwa Khobieh2, Zainab Abu Alrob3, Dr. Mehrunissa Ali3, Dr. Susan Brigham4, and Walaa Mousli
Affiliations: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD)1, Syrian Canadian Foundation2, Ryerson University3, Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU)4
Research Partners: Syrian Canadian Foundation

This study took place in Ontario, Canada. It provided an educational and artistic platform for Syrian refugee youth to share their integration experiences through photography; foster a healthy support network; create positive visibility of Syrian refugee youth; and develop evidence-based practices for youth engagement in research. The research team has launched a virtual exhibit to showcase refugee youth’s photography. Each participant chose their most meaningful photographs and a quote to display alongside the photos.

The Tajribati Canada Project: Early Integration Trajectories of Syrian Refugees in Canada

Researchers: Thomas Soehl1, Dietlind Stolle1, Enrico del Castello2, Lorna Jantzen2, Chantal Goyette2, Claudia Diehl3, Howard Ramos4, Ian Van Haren1, Domenique Sherab1, Nour Daoud1
Affiliations: McGill University1, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)2, Universität Konstanz3, Western University4
Research Partners: IRCC

This study is based on a survey of Syrian newcomers to Canada who arrived through Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement initiative. It examines the integration outcomes of Syrian refugees, including the obstacles they face and resources they mobilize. The study explores the experiences of Syrian newcomers in Canada through often-unexplored measures such as migration history, cross border relations, family dynamics, aspirations, and social connections alongside traditional measures of language proficiency, religion and culture, employment and political affiliation. The study also examines the role that social networks, family dynamics, and private sponsorships play in integration outcomes.