Refugee study seeks Calgary newcomers to improve experience for people fleeing war-torn countries

Researchers at the University of Calgary want to interview refugees who came to the city to escape war and conflict in their home countries.

Refugees from war zones need different treatment and support services than other groups

Researcher Yahya El-Yahib says refugees from war-torn countries like Syria can often be traumatized and need different treatment and supports than other categories of refugee. He wants to find out how their needs are being met from the moment they land in Canada through to integrating into Canadian communities. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Researchers at the University of Calgary want to interview refugees who came to the city to escape war and conflict in their home countries.

The team is working on a study that could help shape future policy by identifying some of the many challenges newcomers face, along with looking closer at the supports and agencies available to newcomers and how they can be better tailored to help people coming to Canada from post-conflict countries. 

The study is a collaboration with the University of Montreal and Toronto's Ryerson University, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

"Right now we are looking for refugees and refugee families from war-torn countries and we're also looking to interview and have focus groups with service providers in the settlement sectors to look at how we can change the story," said Yahya El-Lahib, an assistant professor in the faculty of social work.

Researchers at the U of C want to conduct one-on-one interviews and focus groups to find out first-hand what it’s like to be a refugee arriving and settling in Canada. (Shutterstock/Fishman64)

El-Lahib wants to interview refugees who have been in Calgary between two and five years.

"When we think about immigrants, one of the main issues is that immigrants have a choice to leave their home countries, but in the case of refugees that choice is sometimes not there, which creates a lot of realities that are not taken into account when we think about the settlement sector," said El-Lahib.

El-Lahib says the sector isn't designed to accommodate the different nuances when it comes to newcomers.

"A refugee who's coming from a war-torn country, their needs are not the same as someone who's fled for fear of persecution because of their sexuality or seeking better life based on their disability needs. So those needs are not well accommodated," said El-Lahib.

"Canada welcomes refugees, but I think we need to always think about how do we welcome refugees in ways that really acknowledge and recognize their needs," he said.

Ph.D. student Kaltrina Kusari, who's working on the study, came to Canada as an immigrant herself from war-torn Kosovo.

Student Kaltrina Kusari came to Canada from Kosovo. She says the study’s focus on agencies and service providers is as important as hearing from the refugees themselves. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I recognize the challenges and nuances that come with being a refugee that comes to an entirely new country," said Kusari. 

"There are a lot of agencies that operate services for refugees and refugee claimants but it seems like a lot of the funding that they receive comes with restrictions," Kusari said.

"They say, 'you can serve this person, but if it's a refugee claimant then no.' And I think it's shame for people in those situations to not have access to those services just because of their status and I think it's something we can work towards improving," said Kusari.

Kusari says focusing on the agencies and service providers set up to help refugees, as well as newcomers themselves, will help address issues on both sides.

"To see what service providers are identifying as a gap and how study findings could inform training that will address those gaps," said Kusari.

Anyone interested in taking part in a 1 to 2 hour interview or focus group can contact Dr. Yahyal El-Lahib at:


Dan McGarvey


Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on the city’s diverse northeast quadrant and sharing stories from under-reported communities. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at