Liberals can do more to help Syrian refugees integrate
by Candice Malcolm
September 19, 2016
Kudos to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for talking about the importance of integrating new immigrants into Canadian society.
During a panel discussion on Thursday, Trudeau said that Canada “didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort.” He said it takes time, but that “we all fundamentally need to aspire to the same shared values in Canada.”
Shared values? Cue the outrage from the national media! Just kidding. Liberals are allowed to talk about our values without creating a firestorm and stirring a heated national debate.
Trudeau went on to say that Canadians shouldn’t be “overly impatient” with the integration of newcomers, reminding us that first generation newcomers always have a difficult time adjusting.
Trudeau is correct, integration takes time.
But when it comes to helping immigrants get settled here in Canada, the Trudeau government is doing newcomers no favours. This is particularly true for the newly arrived Syrian refugees.
After an audacious campaign trail pledge, the Trudeau government was in a mad rush to meet its political target of resettling tens of thousand of refugees in just a few months. They cut corners, ignored potential security concerns, overburdened community organizations and neglected the needs of the refugees.
Despite all the virtue signalling by the Trudeau government, Syrians refugees are still struggling to cope with life in Canada.
The most important step towards integration is learning to communicate in the local language. Learning English or French is a must. But thousands of Syrian refugees are unable to understand or communicate, thanks in part to long queues for government-run language courses.
Only about 5,400 Syrians have enrolled in federally-funded language courses, out of more than 30,000 who have arrived in Canada since Trudeau was elected. That is less than 20%.
Wait times for these government-funded language courses range from six months up to two years.
But while language queues grow, some refugee resettlement agencies say the existing language classes are virtually empty.
According to Aleem Syed of the Scarborough Muslim Association, who testified during a Parliamentary committee hearing earlier this year, many refugees sign up for language classes but don’t attend.
“Although they are registered, they don’t want to go,” he said, citing “their social perspective” as the reason.
During the same hearing, Moy Wong-Tam of the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services tried to explain that Syrians prefer to walk places rather than take public transit.
Syrian children, likewise, are not being prepared for success in Canada. Various school board administrators interviewed by a House of Commons committee expressed similar concerns about lack of resources. School districts have been asked to open their doors to large numbers of Syrian students and spend millions of dollars.
Syrian students need translators, Arabic books and extra help, but our overcrowded schools have received no additional federal funding or resources.
The Trudeau government is failing to do its part in helping these refugees integrate.
It hasn’t been easy for Syrian newcomers. Many arrived with illnesses and struggled to get medical attention. They lived for months in budget hotels, waiting for permanent housing, and they rely on food banks and other welfare programs rather than learning to make their own way in Canada. Without skills and language training, these Syrians will continue to struggle.
Trudeau recognizes that integration takes time. But he fails to recognize that refugee resettlement is difficult work.
Actions speak louder than works. And Trudeau’s actions are letting us all down.
Image credit: Reuters