Syrian refugee Easa al Hariri is effusive in his praise of Canada — and now, as the mandated Canadian financial support for his family comes to an end, he's determined to find work and stay in Nova Scotia.
"They told us Canada is a cold country, but I think the warm hearts of Canadians make it warm," al Hariri told Radio-Canada. "We like Canadians. I call it the land of peace."
Al Hariri and his family of six arrived Feb. 5, which means he'll be responsible for his family's financial well-being in less than two months.
His story puts a human face on the cold, hard facts: The 1,300 refugees who have arrived in Nova Scotia either have to support themselves after one year or fall back on provincial social assistance.
The non-government organization Syrian Active Volunteers estimated last month that about half of Syrian refugees Canada-wide had found work. Syrians have found jobs as automotive technicians, in construction and in the food service industry.
As financial support from the federal government runs out, Nova Scotia will have an Arabic-speaking caseworker to help with the expected influx of inquiries.
Years of study ahead
Al Hariri, a dentist for 18 years, says he wants to be self-sufficient so social assistance can go to other people who need it.
He is working toward a dentist's licence in Nova Scotia.
"The requirement is difficult but I am working on it, but we need time," he said. It will take four years or so for him to become a dentist again. But in the meantime, he has a family to support.
"I don't mind to work any job, but I need to keep some time to study," he said. "If I keep just working without any time to study, I will not qualify or get the licence. I have to be organized." He says he studies for a few hours every day.
Meanwhile, his wife, Areej, started a small business selling pastries and bread at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth.
Children correct their English
Al Hariri says he won't move to another province — he likes Nova Scotia and the friends he's made here.
In the 10 months he's been here, the family's needs have evolved.
First priority on arrival was making sure the kids were enrolled in school — the couple has one girl and three boys. Now the children are doing well, even correcting their father's competent but imperfect English.
- 'Extraordinary initiative': Canada's private refugee sponsorship system exported as model for the world
Language fluency is the next big priority.
"I realize we need to improve our English," al Hariri said. "We need more. It's good now — good for general, go to shopping, to street, to speak, but to work I think we need more to work on our English."
Time management will be very important, he says.
"Time for my kids, time for my studying, time if I can find a job, so this I think a big challenge, but ... hopefully we will do it."
Immigration minister confident
Provincial Immigration Minister Lena Diab says Nova Scotia stands ready to help people who need it.
"The new residents are people that very much want to get on their feet and they want to work and they want to be able to provide for themselves and their families," she told Radio-Canada. "And we are very hopeful that that will happen, and for those that do require more help, we are here to help all our citizens in this province."
Diab said many Syrians want to start their own businesses. More than 100 refugees took part in an employment workshop two weeks ago and 22 new business ideas were proposed, she said.