Learning more about how Syrian refugees are faring in London, Calgary and Fredericton

A four-year study is underway to learn more about how Syrian refugees are settling in Canada. The research began in 2017 by Western University nursing professor, Abe Oudshoorn.

A study led by a Western University nursing professor hopes to uncover barriers to fulfilling dreams in Canada

A throwback to 2015, when the first two Syrian families arrived in Fredericton. (CBC Archives)

A four-year study is underway to learn more about how Syrian refugees are settling in Canada. The research began in 2017 by Western University nursing professor Abe Oudshoorn. It has now received federal funding for several more years and includes Fredericton and Calgary. 

"We knew that many Syrian refugees were coming to London and we knew this was happening in a very compressed period of time, so there were going to be some challenges to settlement," said Oudshoorn.

He called the initial study "eye opening." Refugee families welcomed him into their homes, fed him and then opened up to him about their lives in Canada, he said.

Abe Oudshoorn is lead investigator of study looking into how Syrian refugees are settling in London, Fredericton and Calgary.

"One of the really important messages that the participants really wanted us to hear was their optimism and how they saw a better future for themselves and their families. They shared with us their hopes, their dreams, their visions for something better for their families in the long term." 

But, that research also revealed significant barriers including language and access to affordable, adequate housing.

"While they were very thankful for what they currently had, there were some challenges around space, around quality and around affordability."

The federal grant will allow researchers to follow 17 families in each of the three cities involved. Graduate students will connect with the families twice each year to see what's going well for them and what barriers they might be facing. 

'Community matters'

Each city presents its own challenges for newcomers.

"Part of what we know is that community matters," said Oudshoorn.

"In Calgary it's much easier to obtain employment while speaking Arabic. In London, we are finding folks need to first learn English before they can get a job. In Fredericton, where housing is much more affordable, families aren't necessarily wanting to stay long term because maybe they have relatives in other communities across Canada."   

Oudshoorn said, this research is meant to get beyond statistics around long term housing outcomes for refugees. 

"We don't know the 'why'. We might know what's happening to folks by why are some thriving and why are some facing barriers?" he said. "How can we ensure the best possible outcomes for government assisted refugees?"

Oudshoorn wants to unpack what factors are at play when things go well and when things don't work out. He also wants to look at the issues with a policy lens and an equity lens, he said.