Making Canada a Home: How Canadians Can Help Syrian Families

Syrian families face cultural, financial, and emotional challenges as newcomers to Canada. Here's how everyday Canadians can help.

Many parents know the difficulties that come with moving. Leaving behind friends, family, and neighbours can be hard for kids, and at times even heartbreaking. Meanwhile, adjusting to life in a new home can be a long process, taking anywhere from months to years.  

Add to these factors a mix of cultural, linguistic, and financial barriers, and migrating families face a unique set of challenges. Yet Syrian families have shouldered theses same burdens as refugees to Canada, and continue to do so, according to a study from the University of Toronto.

A number of these challenges stem from a lack of social resources. Since the launch of Canada’s resettlement program in 2015, sociologists Neda Maghbouleh, Ito Peng, and Melissa Milkie have interviewed Syrian mothers on how immigration has impacted their mental health. Many Syrian mothers expressed feelings of social isolation, with those under government sponsorships describing fewer social ties.

Over time, these feelings of isolation can take an emotional toll. “Uprooting your life to move from one home to another is already a very stressful life event,” Maghbouleh explains. “But for refugees, a sense of control over their destiny can feel elusive or undermined in a new land. So it’s crucial for Canadians to respect and support Syrian newcomers’ sense of agency, purpose, and self-confidence in the process of resettlement.

So how can Canadians communities be more understanding and accommodating of Syrian families?

First, we should end the stigma surrounding provincial social services.

“It takes time to build language and occupational skills in a new land, “ Maghbouleh says. “So we need to recognize that it is normal for refugee families to transition to provincial social assistance after their first year.”

We should also understand that Syrian newcomers have a desire to contribute to Canadian society.

“Let’s support our new neighbours by establishing nimble, creative programs that provide on-the- spot language and skills training through work experience,” says Maghbouleh.

Finally, we should understand that Syrian refugees want to meet other Canadians outside of their own cultural community.

Canadians can encourage these connections by establishing community groups, particularly with other refugees of similar experiences. “To support these newcomers by connecting them with a range of Canadians — including groups who came here in previous generations as refugees — is a wonderful way to support their integration,” explains Maghbouleh.

With time and the support of their communities, Syrian families can begin to make a life in Canada. Maghbouleh herself has witnessed the bravery of Syrian newcomers and their everyday acts of courage, like starting a conversation with a stranger, navigating a public transit route, asking others for help, and giving help in return. “The mothers in our study have made new friends in places like doctors’ office waiting rooms, the grocery store, their children’s’ schools,” Maghbouleh says.  “It’s beautiful to bear witness to the courage that Syrian newcomer parents and their children practice every day.”

And by helping our newcomers, Canadians can achieve our highest ideals and the values we most aspire to demonstrate: kindness, compassion, and hospitality.

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