OTTAWA — The first government flight dispatched to bring Syrian refugees directly to Canada left on Thursday carrying about160 people to Toronto. They are the vanguard of 25,000 expected by the end of February.
Members of groups who are sponsoring two Syrian refugee families hold up signs welcoming their charges as they wait for the families to arrive at Toronto's Pearson Airport, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. (Chris Young/CP)
Here's a look at five challenges the newcomers will face:
1) Getting to know Canada. Normally, refugees are given detailed orientation sessions abroad before they board flights to Canada. The programs are run by the International Organization for Migration and cover everything from how to dress for winter to making a household budget. But the nature of this programs means very little of that is happening before the refugees arrive in Canada and they'll have to learn as they go. In the case of the first flights, all the Syrians have private sponsors who will be responsible for much of the teaching.
2) Canada getting to know them. In the case of refugees who have private sponsors, they've likely been in touch in recent weeks. Many exchange photos and videos and the sponsors also have a case file on their new charges that gives details such as ages, education and sometimes religion. But in the case of government-sponsored refugees, the government has statistics and basic information, but not much else. The language barrier — many will only speak Arabic — will be one of the first hurdles to overcome.
Fwad Malik, member of a group sponsoring Syrian Families to settle in Canada, holds up a sign welcoming his charges as he waits for them to arrive at Toronto's Pearson Airport, on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. (Chris Young/CP)
3) Finding a place to live. Again, private sponsors are responsible for finding suitable accommodation for the refugees they bring in. Many rent apartments or houses and cover that cost at least for the first year. But in the case of government-assisted refugees, the hunt is now on for thousands of shelter spaces. Some landlords and real estate companies have offered space at reduced rates. In the very short term, some refugees may find themselves living in military barracks until more permanent homes are available.
4) Finding a job. As with most new immigrants, employment is likely to be top of mind for many Syrians. And like other newcomers, they'll be up against barriers including getting credentials recognized by regulatory bodies in Canada. The Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce are working on a campaign to encourage employers to hire a Syrian refugee. There are concerns that this may be difficult in places with already high unemployment.
5) Finding a doctor. Health clinics are bracing for the arrival of many new patients, some with complex health requirements that are part of the reason they've been selected for resettlement to Canada. As permanent residents, the Syrians will be entitled to a range of health-care coverage from medication to mental-health services. Mental health in particular is a matter of concern — many people have escaped traumatic situations that they are still grappling with.