Garouj Nazarian, left, a Syrian refugee, works at Seatuply as owner Levon Aseyan looks on, on Jan. 18, 2016 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)Nazarian is one of 12 Syrian refugees among 80 employees and Afeyan intends to hire more as Canada opens its borders to thousands of people fleeing the Assad regime and the Islamic State. One of the most difficult things for the Syrian refugees Afeyan employs is to accept that their move to Canada is likely a permanent one. ''They haven't grasped that yet," he says. "It takes time for a man to accept the fact that, well, this is it. I've lost (everything)." Afeyan is the boss, but he's also a pseudo social worker, overseeing a factory where immigrants from conflict zones around the world earn money for their families but also learn life skills and are paid to take French lessons.
His business, Seatply Products Inc., makes curved plywood used in chairs throughout North America. The employees press plywood and glue veneers to create colourful combinations. They also cut and drill the wood with robotic machines and, while most of the production doesn't require an advanced skill set, it's work. "They need a job to have respect," Afeyan says. "Respect is a big thing in the Middle East. A man has to be a respectable man. Without a job he doesn't have that." The low price of oil and the sinking dollar have triggered many layoffs across the country but for Seatply it's time to hire. On a tour of his factory, Afeyan intercepts Vasudevan Ratnasingham, from Sri Lanka, a country whose civil war ended in 2009 after 26 years.
"We have to give them time."
Finding a job critical to integrating
French lessons in the factory
Many ways to helpAnd aside from language, Afeyan and his managers also teach refugees about elements of daily life other Canadians take for granted, such as efficient driving. "We teach them about carpooling," he says. "This is a concept they have never heard about. They like it very much by the way." While all Canadians can't offer refugees jobs, they can help their integration by accepting displaced Syrians "not just as refugees but as new Canadians," according to Afeyan. He remembers what it felt like to be 16 years old and living in a new country. "The best thing that ever happened to me is that one of my friends' parents invited me to their dinner," he recalls. "That was amazing. I was actually invited to someone's house for dinner. I was 16 and someone actually invited me. (Syrians) need to feel part of our society."
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