Finding work, not cold, biggest hurdle for Edmonton Syrian refugees

A federally-funded study will look at how Syrian refugees are resettling in Alberta. One refugee in Edmonton says his biggest hurdle isn't the cold weather, but finding a job.

Study underway to examine barriers and experiences of Syrian refugees in Alberta

Hossam Aldawrish arrived in Edmonton with his wife in January 2016. (CBC)

The space heater in Hossam Aldawrish's Edmonton home runs all the time.

While the extreme cold is a big change for the Syrian refugee, the weather hasn't been the most difficult part of his new life in Canada.

"Hardest just found job. Found job, after that, all easy," Aldawrish told CBC on Thursday. "Any job no problem with me, no problem with any refugee, just you find (a) job," he said.

Starting Friday, the Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies is holding several community forums as part of a study into the needs, barriers and experiences of Syrian refugees.

The federal-funded study will focus on the resettlement experiences of the 4,196 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Alberta in 2015 and 2016.

Particular attention will be given to the types of programs and services that are needed in Alberta to support labour market integration, language training, and social connections, said Julie Drolet, associate professor, Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary.

"The study itself is a bit of a snapshot of what's currently taking place," said Drolet at her Edmonton office.

Language barrier

Aldawrish arrived in Edmonton with his wife in January.

He's been applying for two or three jobs every day, but hasn't been able to secure one because his English language skills aren't good enough, he said.

"You need job, because in the job you learn language more," said Aldawrish. "In the school, learn, but 15 per cent."

He has been going to classes to study English and said his advice to other refugees is to learn and study as much as possible before arriving in Canada.
Hossam Aldawrish has been reading children's books in his efforts to learn English. (CBC)

"Learn more about everything and about language," Aldawrish said. "I'm studying after school four hours. I need to learn fast, fast, fast, fast."

Researchers will hear the experiences of about 100 Syrian refugees through surveys and beginning Friday in-person interviews being done in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary.

Language is an issue, as is the time it takes to recognize professional credentials that people have earned abroad, said Drolet.

"It's well known that there are a number of challenges to accessing decent employment," she said. "Given the low price of oil and the state of the economy, it is very difficult for many people today."

The hope is the study will help identify ways to create programs and services that can address some of those challenges,  Drolet said. A final document will be available later in March 2017.

Meanwhile, the stress is mounting for Aldawrish, whose financial support from the government runs out in January, making the need to find a job more urgent.

 "I hope any person, Canadian, or any manager, you try (a) refugee," he said.

with files from Zoe Todd