Syrian refugees helping repopulate East Coast, but will they stay?

HALIFAX -- As Syrian refugees flow into Atlantic Canada, there's hope they'll help repopulate a struggling region even as the newcomers navigate the challenges of housing shortages and a tight job market.

See Full Article

"You can bring hundreds and thousands and if they don't stay, you have lost, you haven't done anything," Lena Diab, the Nova Scotia minister of Immigration, said in an interview Monday. "Retention is always in my mind."

Approximately 946 Syrian refugees will have landed in Nova Scotia by this week, including a family of seven on Monday, with 1,500 expected by year's end.

That's over half of the number of immigrants the province usually attracts in international immigration in a single year -- and helps the province's push to reverse its projected population decline.

The Ivany commission, a landmark study on the province's economy, has called for Nova Scotia to more than double its annual immigrant figures, to 7,000 a year as a way to cope with depopulation.

Similar calls for increased immigration are being heard in New Brunswick, with warnings issued last year that the province's death rate is not outpacing its births and Premier Brian Gallant petitioning Ottawa for more immigrants.

According to the federal Immigration Department website on refugees, that province is expecting about 1,000 Syrians this year.

In Prince Edward Island, the province is expecting 250 refugees this year, about a quarter of its annual immigration last year. Newfoundland and Labrador has a similar number expected.

Some are bringing valuable skills, and are quickly being linked into private sponsorship groups determined to help them stay.

Ahmad Ayash arrived at the Halifax airport Monday with his wife Fatmeh and five children, saying he hopes to eventually continue his work as a civil engineer in the province.

"It's the greatest feeling," he said with a big smile as a church group welcomed him. "I am grateful and thankful for all the people here in Lunenburg who are helping us and supporting us."

It's the kind of support that Rev. Michael Mitchell of St. John's Anglican Church in Lunenburg, N.S., hopes to provide the new family, with a committee member already planning to look into how to help Ayash recertify.

"We hope because he (the father) is an engineer that he'll have a marketable skill," said the priest.

Diab, who speaks Arabic, said she visited a support centre for the Syrians in person on Monday, and says it helps that she can speak the same language in making people feel welcome.

"People were shocked, they were amazed and ... it's a great start," she said.

Claudette Legault, director of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, says she hopes the support of the private sponsors will help overcome the challenges of housing shortages and finding jobs -- two problems that have led to refugees departing the region in the past.

"If they're able to build connections in the first year, that may keep them here," she said.

However, there are challenges in housing and in finding work for the family providers. Meanwhile, as families concentrate in Toronto and other large centres, it tends to create a magnet drawing more refugees.

Two families expected on Monday made last minute switches to change their destination to Ontario, resulting in sponsorship groups suddenly changing their plans to receive them at the Halifax airport.

Jacqueline Derrah of the Atlantic Baptist Convention in Saint John, N.B., said it can be disappointing for the volunteer groups longing for their arrival.

On the other hand, the director of the church's refugee program in the region said she's hearing from Syrian refugees that Atlantic Canada destinations are becoming more desirable in refugee camps because they don't face the same backlogs in processing and assistance as larger cities.

"We pick up government assisted refugees at the airport and help them get settled for six weeks. ... quickly the word has spread in the camps you want to go to Saint John or Halifax," she said.

There are also hopes in the region that the refugees will help inject entrepreneurial drive, as well as providing a workforce for the region's agricultural and fishing industries.

"They are highly motivated to work and we are hearing over and over and over again of job opportunities for these folks long before they arrive here," said Derrah.

- with files from Keith Doucette



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Protestors, police clash again in bitter fight for Venezuela's constitution

    World News CBC News
    Protesters rallied Saturday in the Venezuelan capital for a march toward the embattled nation's Supreme Court, chanting slogans opposing President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the constitution. Organizers hope the opposition-led demonstration will send a forceful message to Maduro to cancel a July 30 election for delegates to a constitutional assembly that would be tasked with overhauling the nation's charter. Source
  • Fire burning near Banff covers 4,100 hectares: Parks Canada

    Canada News CTV News
    BANFF, Alta. -- Parks Canada says it has been able to get a better idea of the size of a wildfire that's been burning close to Banff. The agency says its fire management personnel were able to fly around the perimeter of the Verdant Creek fire on Friday and determined it covers approximately 4,100 hectares. Source
  • Indigenous Games: Akwesasne athlete inspires women by breaking barriers

    Canada News CBC News
    Kawehnokwiio Bailey Thomas buried her face in her jersey as tears came down the side of her face. She and team Eastern Door and the North (EDN) fell in straight sets to team Newfoundland and Labrador to finish 10th in the U19 female volleyball competition at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). Source
  • Minneapolis police chief tasked with changing culture promoted from within

    World News CTV News
    People who have worked closely with the man tapped to lead Minneapolis' embattled police department say he has qualities that would suit him well in the role: He's friendly, seems forthright, has deep roots in the city and is African-American, which could help improve the sour relationship between the police force and the city's sizeable black community. Source
  • British Columbia teen becomes youngest Canadian to swim English Channel

    Canada News CBC News
    B.C. teen Emily Epp has become the youngest Canadian to swim across the English Channel. On July 15, Epp slipped into the channel and left the Cliffs of Dover in her rear view. She arrived at Cap Gris Nez in France 11 hours and 57 minutes later, making her the 43rd Canadian to conquer the challenge since 1951, according to the Channel Swimming Association. Source
  • Four tornadoes touch down in Saskatchewan, another two reported

    Canada News CTV News
    Environment Canada has confirmed that four tornadoes touched down in Saskatchewan on Friday. The tornadoes did not cause any damage, according to Environment Canada, but warnings were issued due to the surrounding storms. Another two tornadoes were reported, photographed and posted on social media. Source
  • Liberals punted on 1st down with $10.5M Omar Khadr settlement

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    When Peter Kent wrote the opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal that tipped off sleeping Americans to the Omar Khadr payoff, he wrote not as a Conservative MP but as the journalist he once was. This is why it resonated so strongly, and suddenly became the top news item on many U.S. Source
  • U.S. kills 12 Afghan police in airstrike amid violent clashes with Taliban

    World News CBC News
    An errant U.S. airstrike confirmed by the Pentagon killed 12 Afghan National Police officers and wounded two others, as another 11 police were killed and six wounded in clashes with the Taliban, Afghan officials said Saturday. Source
  • U.S. airstrike kills 12 Afghan police officers

    World News Toronto Sun
    KABUL — An errant U.S. airstrike confirmed by the Pentagon killed 12 Afghan National Police officers and wounded two others, as another 11 police were killed and six wounded in clashes with the Taliban, Afghan officials said Saturday. Source
  • Sean Spicer thought 'SNL' skits were 'funny'

    World News Toronto Sun
    Soon to be ex-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer admits he likes a good joke. In his first interview since he resigned from his post on Friday, Spicer told Fox News' Sean Hannity that Saturday Night Live's parody of him was humourous at times. Source