British Columbia

Syrian refugees find work against the odds

Some Syrian refugees who have arrived in B.C. in recent months are bucking the odds by finding employment.

Most refugees don't find employment in their first year in Canada, but help is emerging

Syrian refugee Yasin Alhomsi has found work at an electronics wholesaler in Richmond. (Christer Waara/ CBC)

Some Syrian refugees who have arrived in B.C. in recent months are bucking the odds by finding employment. 

According to data from the federal government, most refugees don't find paying work in their first year in Canada. 

But Yasin Alhomsi is determined to support himself and his family as soon as possible. 

The Syrian refugee, who was reunited with his father in Canada late last year after being tortured and imprisoned in Syria, recently started work at Torbram Electric Supply in Richmond. 

"My father, [on the] first day when I came to Canada, told the media, my children ... will start immediately [to] work and study," Alhomsi says. 

"And for that, I am proud because I achieve my father's promise for Canadian people." 

Alhomsi and his brother Majd both found work through a youth employment program at Success. The federal government will subsidize their salaries for the first 10 weeks. 

'It may take a bit of time'

The brothers' stories are far from typical. 

Lily Lim, the division manager of career services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says they haven't had any reports of newly-arrived Syrian refugees being employed. 

"I expect it may take a bit of time before we see any noticeable results, especially given the waitlist situation for government-funded language training which is a major need among the recent refugee arrivals," she wrote in an email. 

But a handful of government-assisted refugees have found employment thanks to the efforts of Shalimar Abbas, a volunteer with the Muslim Food Bank who has been working with refugees in a Coquitlam housing complex. 

Syrian refugee Ahmad Hwishan has found work at a dry cleaner in Port Coquitlam, thanks to a volunteer with the Muslim Food Bank who approached the owner. (CBC)

"I started going to each and every apartment and I found the men were very stressed because of being kept in the house," she said. "They don't know what to do."

One refugee told her he'd like help finding work, so she started calling up local employers. Abbas has now connected three refugees with jobs at a dry cleaner, a daycare and a window installation company. 

Abbas says employers interested in hiring Syrian refugees can email her at

ISSofBC is planning a hiring event next month to bring together job-seeking government-assisted refugees and employers. 

Unemployment costs everyone

Unemployment rates for refugees who have arrived in B.C. within five years are at about 20 per cent, according to a 2014 report

Government-assisted refugees receive federal social assistance for up to a year after their arrival, and after one year they are able to apply for provincial welfare if necessary. 

Najah Hage of Mosaic says there needs to be more support to help refugees find employment. (CBC)

"We are all responsible to help refugees find employment," says Najah Hage, manager of employment programs at Mosaic.

"It means they become taxpayers, so they contribute to the Canadian economy. It means they're not reliant on government support." 

Graph: How much do refugees make, and how much welfare do they receive based on how long they've been in Canada?

Looking for 'satisfying employment'

Unemployment and underemployment take a psychological toll on refugees, especially those who come from professional backgrounds, says Hage. 

"Someone that had a great career and had a great family life and their kids were in private schools, they come here and they're more in a poverty situation. It really destroys them," she said. 

"Until they find satisfying employment, they don't really recover."

Vicken Majarian, standing, and his wife Alin Arekelian have been working with an employment service to recertify as a dentist and a civil engineer. (CBC)

Vicken Majarian and Alin Arekelian worked as a doctor and an engineer in Syria, and have been looking for survival jobs in B.C. 

But Majarian says he recently landed a job working in hospital transport and begins training Mar. 9. 

Meanwhile, Arekelian says she is starting a program at BCIT next month to train as a building inspector. 

Majarian says finding work in the medical field made him feel "very, very, very happy and relieved." 

"At last, I found something, because I am responsible, I have two kids. We are looking forward for them to have a bright future." 

To listen to the full interview click the link labelled: Meet the Syrian refugees who have bucked the odds to find jobs.


Catherine Rolfsen

'Finding Refuge' story producer

Catherine Rolfsen is a story producer with The Early Edition at CBC Radio Vancouver, currently following stories of Syrian refugees in B.C. Catherine's work has been recognized with regional and national awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Reach her at or @crolfsen

With files from Tamara Baluja