Lack of jobs, housing: why some of Canada's Syrian refugees are relocating
Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A year ago this December, the first wave of Syrian refugees to Canada arrived in their new homes across the country. But for some, home is still another big move away.

In what's being called a second migration, many refugees from Syria are packing up their lives once again in an effort to find work, to be near family and friends, or even for better weather.

In 2012, Lina Arafeh left Syria for Turkey, and in September moved to Halifax as a refugee, privately sponsored by her friend.

"I love life in Halifax. I love the people. They're very hospitable. The schools are amazing," Arafeh tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Arafeh has nine children, five of whom are grown. Her other four are here with her in Canada.

"They have helped my kids adjust. They're doing very very well. I'm happy." 

Nonetheless, Arafeh says she plans to move to Toronto when her year of private sponsorship is up. As a  professional interpreter, there are job opportunities in Toronto that don't exist in Halifax.

She says her children are resilient when it comes to having to relocate again. 

"These kids I don't know what they're made of. Diamond maybe," she says.

New Brunswick has resettled more refugees per capita than any other province.

About five per cent of Syrian refugees who have settled in New Brunswick this year have left the province and those moves can be hard for the people who sponsor them, according to Janet Hunt. She's part of a welcome team with the YMCA helping government-assisted Syrian families settle in and around Saint John.

Three of the families Hunt helped support have left New Brunswick hoping to find job opportunities. But one special family decided to try for one more year mostly because of their close connection to Hunt.

"We've become more than friends,"  Hunt tells Tremonti. "We've become this extended family to each other."

Since last January, settlement agencies estimate that 500 families have moved to Windsor, Ont., from other parts of Canada — the majority are Syrian.

Hugo Vega, chair of Windsor Essex Local Immigration Partnership, says Windsor's large Arabic speaking population, inexpensive housing, and weather make it an attractive location.

Mayas Altahan and her family originally settled in Moncton but moved to Windsor in September.

"I have family members here and they were able to support me, especially with my kids and also the weather. It was cold [in Moncton] and here it's warmer," Altahan says.

"Windsor is different," says Altahan's husband  Ali Alashram.

"I feel safe and happy like the way it was in Syria before."

Vega says this ability to choose the right home is part of what it means to be Canadian.

"They have freedom of mobility and that's something we embrace as far as their choice as a newcomer to be here."

"They've spent time in a conflict that didn't allow them any freedom."

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Source: CBC The Current / Willow Smith

Photo: Syrian refugees Lina Arafeh and her kids live in Halifax but plans to move to a bigger city hoping to find work. (Courtesy of Lina Arafeh)