British Columbia

Syrian refugees struggling to find housing, jobs in B.C. — but thankful to be here, survey finds

A report card of sorts gauging how 241 new Syrian households are settling into B.C. after two years reveals struggles with finding housing and work — but 96 per cent plan to become Canadian.

'They are doing very well, but there is a small percentage that continue to struggle,' says ISS B.C. director

While 27 per cent of Syrian refugees surveyed in April 2018 said they were working full time, many still needed food banks for basic needs, according to ISS of B.C. (ISS of BC)

A report card gauging how 241 new Syrian households are settling into B.C. after two years reveals struggles with finding housing and work — but 96 per cent of them plan to become Canadian.

The federal government and private citizens have helped 52,000 Syrians resettle in Canada since 2015. Of those, 4,400 came to B.C.

A telephone survey by Immigrant Services Society of B.C., one of the largest immigrant services agencies in Canada, reached out to 241 Syrian adults who spoke for their households — representing more than 1,000 people — who arrived in 2016.

But the report — entitled SRO to B.C: Taking Stock Two Years After Arrival — reveals that most of them have found stable homes, know their neighbours, and report overall wellbeing.

"They are doing very well, but there is a small percentage that continue to struggle," said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for ISS B.C.

He lauded the refugees' determination and perseverance.

Key findings from the telephone survey of Syrian refugees in B.C.:

  • 46 per cent reported having paid employment since arriving in Canada.
  • 27 per cent said they were currently working full time.
  • 87 per cent said their English has improved; 55 per cent said it was "somewhat better"; 32 per cent said it was "much better."
  • 69 per cent reported attending free Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada classes.
  • 80 per cent of people waited less than a year for those classes. The range of wait times was three to 18 months. 
  • For people who didn't attend LINC classes, the barriers cited were education (43 per cent), health (23 per cent) and lack of class space (11 per cent).

An April 2018 survey of Syrian refugees who settled in B.C. revealed that 27 per cent were working full-time, double the amount in the first year after their arrival. (ISS of B.C.)

Mental health concerns

Friesen said the survey revealed a need for better transit and more creative ways to deliver English lessons.

Many respondents said they struggle to learn English, find daycare, endure isolation and cope with a lack of services. Women with children in particular described troubles integrating because they lack language skills.

The survey also uncovered a pressing need for better support for those with mental trauma after witnessing or experiencing torture, rape or extreme violence, Friesen said.

About 11 per cent surveyed said their mental health had worsened in the past year.

"If we are selecting refugees on the basis of vulnerability ... we need to ensure they have the appropriate care," Friesen said.

Employment, housing

ISS B.C. researchers spoke Arabic during the survey so their questions could be easily understood.

They called homes in Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and the Okanagan Valley.

More than a quarter of the people who responded (27 per cent) reported working full-time — double the first-year survey results.

But while food bank use has decreased in a year, the majority surveyed said they still use food banks for basic needs.

Some of the 4,400 Syrian refugees who have come to B.C. were helped by private citizens, who stocked their homes with furniture, food and personal items, and helped them find work and get to English classes. (CBC)

More than two-thirds of the Syrians who moved to B.C. — 69 per cent — have remained in the home they moved into after leaving their initial temporary housing.

Some have struggled to find housing in B.C.'s tight market, but of those who have moved, most (78 per cent) reported moving to better conditions.

A quarter of those who moved have found homes through B.C. Housing.

Happy to be here

Almost all of those surveyed (96 per cent) reported that they were glad they came to Canada and that they intend to become Canadian citizens.

Only three of the respondents said they planned to leave Canada.

When they asked open-ended questions, surveyors found the most common sentiment Syrians expressed was gratitude and appreciation for being welcomed to Canada.

Many expressed a deep commitment to strive to contribute to Canada — and help others in need.