Nfld. & Labrador

Warm welcome not enough to keep refugees in N.L.

A study found that while many refugees felt very welcome after arriving, employment opportunities were the primary reason for deciding whether or not to stay.

New report examines settlement experiences and retention

Syrian refugees arriving in St. John's in 2016. (CBC)

A new study by Memorial University has found that while many refugees felt very welcome after arriving in Newfoundland and Labrador, employment opportunities were the primary reason for deciding whether or not to stay here.

The report titled Retention & Integration of Refugees in NL looked at factors that can potentially enhance refugee integration and those that may negatively impact their settlement experiences and desire to remain in the province.

"Like every Newfoundlander and Labradorian they were worried about the high unemployment rate and how that was going to affect their chance of finding a job," said Kerri Neil, a sociology student and member of the study's research team.

More than 200 people turned up for the Association for New Canadian's annual Christmas party in 2016. (Gary Locke/CBC)

"Most people did want to establish themselves and be able to take care of their family without being on social assistance, so finding a job and starting a career was really important to them."

The study, led by Tony Fang, the Stephen Jarislowsky chair of cultural and economic transformation at Memorial University, was based on interviews with 114 refugees in two sets — 64 Syrian refugees represented new arrivals, while the remaining 50 were from a variety of countries and had been living in the province between two and 15 years.

Great first impression

Researchers found the friendliness of people in Newfoundland and Labrador was sincerely appreciated by the new arrivals.

However, even after a short period time, many respondents had the impression of a lack of employment opportunities.

Neil said in most cases the year of federal financial assistance provided for new refugees wasn't enough to prepare them for the labour market.

A group of Syrian refugees in St. John's waiting to give blood earlier this year as a gesture of appreciation. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"People after one year were mostly unemployed and still learning the language and still kind of adjusting," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"We found that after the one year federal assistance they mostly were on social assistance, which is a lot less, and they were struggling to keep ends meeting."

Refugees who had been in the province longer were generally unemployed or underemployed, and several reported instances of racism in their workplaces.

Range of complaints

Long wait times for health care, difficulty navigating the public transportation system and the weather were also among the list of concerns.

"One interesting thing that came up was the contrast between the Syrian refugees who came and other refugees who came at the same time from Eritrea or South Sudan who felt that the community was so focused on the Syrians that they were kind of being ignored, their plight wasn't as important," said Neil.

Kerri Neil is a masters student in sociology at MUN. Her research has focused on the labour market in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paula Gale/CBC)

"That made them feel like it wasn't fair, they struggled just as much and they wanted some acknowledgement of that."

The report also provides a number of recommendations to improve retention that are divided into broad categories, including settlement assistance, language training, health care, cost of living, housing, and economic and labour market integration.

Big city competition

The retention rate of refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador is the lowest in the country, at 36 per cent.

"We struggle to compete with Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, they're very multicultural, diverse, lower cost of living in a sense, but definitely more access to cultural products and services that they are more familiar with, so that's a big hurdle."

Neil said after the federal assistance runs out after the first year some other provinces will provide additional funding for refugees, but in Newfoundland and Labrador they have to move to basic provincial social assistance.

"Which is less, and so they struggle with that difference."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show