Why a Syrian newcomer is refusing financial help despite difficulty finding work

A Kitchener man says it has been difficult for him to find work in the area, despite speaking fluent English and having a background in accounting and finance. Tareq Ibrahim came to Canada with his family in September 2015 after fleeing their home in Syria.

'Syrians, in nature, they don’t like to get something free of charge,' Tareq Ibrahim says

Tareq Ibrahim is seen in this photo from 2007 enjoying diving. It was before his family was forced to flee Syria. Now in Kitchener, Ibrahim says he is trying to find work, but lacks the 'Canadian experience' companies want. (Tareq Haj Ibrahim/Facebook)

Job hunting is difficult work for anyone.

But Syrian refugees looking for good employment are facing even greater challenges.

Tareq Ibrahim knows that all too well. Ibrahim, his wife and two sons arrived in Kitchener on Sept. 21, 2015.

He has only had two months of paid work this year and although he is actively looking for work, he has not landed a steady job.

"The biggest issue and biggest challenge we're facing when job hunting is a Canadian experience, which is a hidden requirement of all the employers," Ibrahim told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Tuesday.

Ibrahim is fluent in English, so language hasn't been a barrier, but he has been told "unofficially" that he needs more experience in Canada before Canadian companies will hire him.

That can be hard, but Ibrahim has tried volunteering at a Canada Revenue Agency tax clinic last year.

And he's not giving up.

"I believe the taxpayers money has to be [given] to the people who are more in need. I am still young, I have the energy, I came here to contribute in building the community I'm living in, the economy of the country," he said.

'We are keen to find a job'

December is known as "Month 13" for federally-sponsored Syrian refugees – their first month surviving without a monthly living allowance.

But Carl Cadogan, executive director of Reception House, the organization responsible for settling government-sponsored refugees in Waterloo region, said last week that refugees in this area will continue to receive help if they need it.

Ontario Works is recommended as an option.

"The difference between what the federal government provides as an allowance and Ontario Works is not that different," Cadogan said.

"In fact there are some additional benefits that Ontario Works provides that the federal government doesn't provide [while on the federal living allowance]," said Cadogan. One example is the federal Child Tax Benefit, for which refugee families can now apply.
Tareq Ibrahim speaks at an event in Elora hosted by Under the Same Sky, a group in Centre Wellington. (Under the Same Sky/Facebook)

Ibrahim said he is not sure how much longer the family's savings will sustain them, but he's resisting taking any additional money.

He does not want to go on Ontario Works.

"I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking also …of all the Syrian newcomers. Syrians, in nature, they don't like to get something free of charge. Yes, there are seniors among them, there are disabled people who cannot work – all of us, we are keen to find a job."

He said he is not the only refugee looking for work.

"They are refusing to get money for free," he said.

Ibrahim also said he wants to find work that he is capable of doing, that his education supports and that he has experience doing. For him, that's financial work.

"I'm trying to avoid going to any survival job in order not to lose the skills, my skills, and at the same time, I feel what I have can help Canada more than me going to one of the survival jobs," he said.

Use elections to make your point

In recent weeks, comments have appeared on the CBC KW Facebook page from users who say the newcomers to Canada are taking away from other groups. One such claim, that Syrian refugees now making Canada home are taking food away from others who use food banks, was debunked.

Ibrahim is aware of the comments and said he hopes people can understand what they've been through.

"No one chooses to be a refugee," he said.

They were forced to leave their homes and lands and countries.

"The government, the Canadian people, the love they provided to them, gave them a hope in the future. We were living in conditions that – we lost the hope and the future completely. We were living hour by hour, minute by minute, we don't know what's going to happen next after one hour," Ibrahim said.

Everyone wants to become Canadian and have "the intention to build and repay the country that welcomed them," he said.

Their battle space should be in the elections and their weapon must be their vote.- Tareq Ibrahim on what he tells children about fleeing Syria

He noted the true Islamic values of his faith and Canadian values are "very, very, very similar."

"We're sharing a lot of great values all together. Yes, there are some cultural differences, but I want to assure them, no one came to take their share of that assistance," he said. "Right now, if all the employers can open their doors for the Syrians, they will find them hard workers, dedicated, fast learners and they have an intention and aim to be successful in the country."

Ibrahim has also been speaking at local schools through a program set up by the church that sponsored his family.

"I found it an opportunity to educate the kids who are the future of the country, tell them what does it mean being a refugee, try to educate the society at little bit, try to reduce the gap in the culture between the newcomers and the community here," he said.

"And the most important thing, I found it a chance to explain to the kids who are the future of the country…when they disagree with each other, that their battle space should be in the elections and their weapon must be their vote."