The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce rolled out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees on Monday by hosting an event aimed at helping business leaders understand what newcomers need to enter the local workforce.
The luncheon, titled Welcome to Winnipeg: Understanding and Embracing Syrian Refugees, brought together the business community, settlement agencies and newcomers at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
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Among those who spoke at the event was Khalid, who talked about how difficult it was to leave his home, family and friends behind in Syria.
Having arrived recently in Winnipeg, Khalid has a new home and said he is thankful for everyone who has welcomed him and other refugees.
"He thanked the Government of of Canada, he thanked the Government of Manitoba. He thanked all the organizations, non-profit organizations, who gave a great welcome to the Syrian refugees," said Albert El Tassi, who translated for him.
"He said they put the smile back on their faces."
Khalid said it has been tough not to be able to earn a living as an electrician, but chamber president Dave Angus said the newcomer's trade skills have already come in handy.
Angus told the luncheon audience about one time Khalid was stuck in an elevator inside his new building.
"Khalid, who's an electrician, walks over, opens up the electrical box, makes a few adjustments. All of a sudden, the lights went on and it started to move," Angus said to applause.
"I don't think Khalid's going to have any trouble getting a job in this city."
Skill assessments, training
Angus said helping refugees find work in Winnipeg will involve, among other things, assessing their skill sets and finding out what kinds of training they require.
"The key enabler is really is [the] English language, and so they'll have to access the level in which they are at, individual by individual, in terms of English-language training," he said.
"Then it's about conditioning the employers to be able to take them on at a certain point in time, when their English is good enough, and they will continue to get better and better and better."
Rafiq Punjani, an immigrant from Pakistan, said he is donating 1,000 service hours to help Syrian refugees get their businesses off the ground when they're ready.
"I have an accounting practice, we have started a new business now, and I could not do that by myself," he told reporters.
"When we came here, I didn't even know how to fill my gas, let alone start a business, right? So Canadians and Winnipeggers have been extremely kind with us and I think that this is our time to give back."