Social media a lifeline for Syrian refugees in Canada

A new study shows that many Syrian refugees arriving in Canada found social media to be the lifeline they needed to navigate an unfamiliar country.

Refugees using social media to learn about Canada before arriving, University of Ottawa professor found

University of Ottawa professor Luisa Veronis and Rabea Alriffai, who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Syria. (Ryan Tumilty/CBC)

A new study suggests many Syrian refugees arriving in Canada found social media to be the lifeline they needed to navigate an unfamiliar country.

University of Ottawa professor Luisa Veronis said prior to the war, Syria was a fully connected country and social media was popular.

She said when refugees fled, they continued to use those tools to both keep in touch and learn about what lay ahead for them.

"Social media was very useful for them to learn about Canada, even before arriving here," she said on CBC's All In A Day. "They turned to it immediately to learn about things like culture, language, geography."

Questions about credentials

Rabea Alriffai, who arrived from Syria as a refugee and is now a settlement worker, created a Facebook page offered refugees information about how to pursue post-secondary education once they arrived.

"I wanted to make an online platform that helps with providing information and insights from those that have been there before," he said.

He said many of the refugees have skills and education, and want to advance their careers in Canada.  

"People were educated, so they wanted to get their credentials recognized," he said. "That was one of the biggest questions we had in the group."

Young refugees leading the way

Veronis said social media also played an important role in allowing young refugees to help their families make the transition to life in Canada.

"Often youth are much faster learning the language for example, so they serve as gatekeepers for their parents or grandparents and they had access to social media," she said. "Having this access to information allowed them to communicate and help."

 Veronis will present her full study during an event at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants on Thursday afternoon.