Syrian Refugee Resettlement Initiative – Looking to the Future

In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Canada resettled more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. This effort was an exceptional and time-limited situation which required additional resources as well as special measures which were temporarily put in place.

Although some things are unique to the Syrian resettlement initiative, they continue to inform our processes as we go forward to help all refugee populations.

What were some of the key lessons learned from the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative?

Information-sharing with stakeholders

A general profile of the Syrian refugees we expected to resettle was shared with stakeholders at the outset of this initiative. In retrospect, the government-assisted refugees we resettled had higher than anticipated needs, but that information was not available until the refugees were interviewed and began arriving in Canada.

Refugees experienced trauma that often required specialized care. It is important that communication with service provider organizations and sponsors continues to ensure that refugees are able to access the care and services they need to help them integrate. The department is continuing to look at ways to provide more timely information to stakeholders regarding refugees, from all populations, who are being resettled to Canada.

We are working to develop additional ways to communicate with refugees, sponsors and partners throughout the process.

Partnerships and teamwork

Both internationally and domestically, partners played a crucial role in the success of this initiative. Foreign governments, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, provinces and territories, private sponsors, service providers, other departments within the Government of Canada and Canadians writ large all had and continue to have a significant role in the success of the Syrian resettlement initiative.

The importance of these partnerships continues to inform our resettlement plans. In 2017, with a target of 25,000 resettled refugees, admissions in 2017 are double those established for 2015 and in preceding years. To do this, we will continue to work with our partners and Canadians to welcome refugees.

Public support

Canadians from coast to coast to coast have helped Syrian refugees. Through sponsorships and by volunteering in their community, people across Canada have supported the Syrian resettlement initiative and are helping many Syrians integrate into their communities.

Public interest in privately sponsoring refugees and volunteering with settlement organizations continues across Canada. The Department is harnessing this goodwill by providing additional support to immigrant-serving organizations to help support volunteer coordination. We also partnered with Volunteer Canada to develop a Volunteer Management Handbook with tools and tips to support immigrant-serving organizations as they draw on the skills of volunteers to assist newcomers to Canada.

Operational flexibility and innovative approaches to processing

During the Syrian resettlement initiative, the creation of temporary operations centres were an innovative approach to processing the applicants as efficiently as possible. Canada was able to establish these centres thanks to the assistance of the governments in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey and partners in the region such as the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration. The ability to repeat this kind of processing in other countries is contingent on the co-operation of those local governments. The ability to share work electronically throughout the department’s network of missions facilitated teamwork and allowed some of the work to be completed at other sites.

Completing steps in the immigration process such as interviews and medical and security screening concurrently enabled the government to complete the processing of more than 25,000 Syrian refugees in roughly 100 days. This required special measures including the reassignment of staff from other departments. Where feasible, this can speed up processing, but it requires significant additional resources both in terms of funding and human resources.

Where feasible, such measures can speed up processing, but it requires significant additional resources both in terms of funding and human resources. This model could be considered in the event of future extraordinary resettlement initiatives.

Prima facie refugee designation

In part, Canada was able to resettle a significant number of Syrian refugees over a short period of time by considering Syrian refugees as prima facie refugees. IRCC relies on UNHCR guidance when deciding to recognize prima facie refugee situations.

The designation of Syrians as prima facie refugees meant that the applicant did not have to prove their refugee status. Immigration officers started with the assumption that the applicant met the refugee requirements unless proven otherwise. This allowed visa officers to focus their interviews on security, criminality and medical screening. Unless there was evidence to the contrary, visa officers presumed that those fleeing the conflict met the definition of a refugee. This made processing faster.

As of April 2017, Syrians may still be considered prima facie refugees. IRCC continues to monitor the ongoing crisis in Syria.

Importance of giving refugees time to say goodbye and pre-arrival orientation

Refugees already had to flee their homes, leaving most of what they held dear behind. Travel to Canada also means saying goodbye to family, friends and homeland.

We learned that people needed time to say their farewells. After February 2016, Syrian refugees approved for resettlement generally travelled 4 to 8 weeks following a positive decision on their case. This provided them with sufficient time to conclude their affairs overseas, to say their good-byes and to receive the Canada Orientation Abroad which provided some initial orientation about life in Canada.

These considerations continue for refugees that Canada is resettling.

What is the government doing to ensure that refugees integrate once in Canada?

Government-assisted refugees go to communities in Canada where there are already settlement supports in place, with consideration given to whether they have family members in Canada, as well as the availability of schools, housing and language training. Our goal is to find a community with existing resettlement and settlement services that meet the needs of the refugees and allows them to connect with a support network that can help them adjust to life in Canada.

Privately sponsored refugees go to the community where their sponsor lives.

Once in Canada, all resettled refugees are permanent residents and as such they have access to the full suite of federally-funded settlement services that help them integrate successfully into their new communities and Canadian society. This includes language training and services to help them access the labour market.

Through the National Settlement Council and in our daily operations, we continue to engage regularly with immigrant-serving organizations to get information on the progress of all those who use settlement services and to find out what the Department can do to help improve these services. We regularly assess newcomers’ needs in communities across Canada to ensure that services needed by newcomers are available and accessible.

What settlement services are available to refugees once in Canada?

Canada is a recognized international leader in settlement and integration by providing various supports to newcomers, including refugees. Through the Settlement Program, newcomers receive the information that they need about life in Canada and the community in which they intend to settle, language training, help finding a job, and connections with established immigrants and Canadians.

Resettlement services are focused specifically on refugees and support their unique short- and medium-term needs. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that all newcomers have access to the same level of services regardless of where they choose to settle.

In 2017-18, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is investing more than $690 million (outside of Quebec) to support the settlement needs of newcomers and refugees.

Once they are here, all resettled refugees have access to the full suite of settlement supports and services provided by specialized Service Provider Organizations. These supports and services help them integrate and build a successful life in Canada as quickly as possible and include:

Support Services, including child care, transportation assistance, translation, interpretation, crisis counselling and provisions for disabilities, are offered across the Settlement Program to enable access to direct settlement services.

Services are delivered by over 500 organizations in Canada and are available to all resettled refugees.

What kinds of programs are available for Syrian refugee youth?

In support of the Syrian resettlement effort, IRCC funded enhancements to settlement supports that are specifically aimed at youth, including summer programming, Arabic-speaking youth workers, and youth employment programs.

Other youth-specific programming for Syrian refugees includes initiatives that combine interactive activities and games with informal language training to ease the transition for youth.

Initiatives aimed at Syrian refugee youth also led to opportunities to bring together participants from various cultural backgrounds to facilitate community integration.

In addition to these program enhancements, IRCC funded pilot projects during Winter 2016 to support the settlement of Syrian refugees in communities across Canada and to test innovative approaches in a number of programming areas, including programming aimed specifically at youth. From these 31 direct service pilots, 2145 Syrian refugees were served, of which almost half were under 25 years old.

We recognize the importance of engaging directly with newcomer youth, who have diverse skills, knowledge and experience. Work is underway at IRCC to engage with newcomer youth on Canadian integration and immigration issues and to ensure that a youth-centered lens is reflected in the department’s work.

Under the Settlement Program, IRCC continues to provide settlement services that are directly targeted at supporting newcomer youth and families. For example, Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) is an outreach program that was established through a partnership of settlement agencies, boards of education, and IRCC to promote settlement and foster student achievement. This initiative places settlement workers from community agencies directly in elementary and secondary schools with high numbers of newcomer students to offer specialized, culturally-appropriate services to students and their families.

What kind of income support is available for Government Assisted Refugees and Private Sponsored Refugees?

Income support for government-assisted refugees (GARs) under the Government’s Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) can last up to one year from the date of arrival in Canada, or until the refugee is able to support himself or herself. A refugee is deemed financially self-sufficient when they are able to support themselves and no longer require income support from the government.

RAP payments take into account many factors, including housing allowances, and generally seek to align with provincial social assistance rates. Resettlement support normally includes a one-time start-up payment to assist the refugees in establishing a household in Canada, as well as monthly income support to help them get through their first year in Canada. Monthly support is provided to cover the costs of food and incidentals, shelter and transportation. This amount varies depending on the family size and is guided by the prevailing provincial social assistance rates in the province where the refugee(s) reside.

The federal government works closely with our RAP service provider organizations to ensure that refugees who may require ongoing financial support have completed or will complete the required provincial/territorial paperwork. Income support for most resettled refugees is provided for their first year in Canada by the federal government, private sponsors or a mix of both. When income support ends, it is normal for some refugees in need to transition to provincial or territorial social assistance support.

Under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, sponsors provide financial and emotional support for refugees for the duration of the sponsorship. This includes help for housing, clothing and food.

Eligible refugee families may also be eligible for the Canada Child Benefit credit. Learn more.

How does the government help refugees find housing while they settle in Canada?

Local Service Provider Organizations in communities across Canada work as quickly as possible to secure housing for government-assisted refugees arriving in their community.

These IRCC-funded organizations use their knowledge of the local housing market to assist the refugees in finding affordable permanent accommodation, and to help resolve issues with landlords that may arise while living in permanent accommodations.

Securing permanent housing for Syrian refugees was and remains a key priority. All of government-assisted Syrian refugees who were resettled to Canada by the end of February 2016 had found permanent accommodations by the summer of 2016.

Local Service Provider Organizations continue to help resettled refugees find permanent homes.

How is the government evaluating the success of the Syrian refugee initiative?

The department continues to monitor and evaluate how the more than 25,000 Syrian refugees resettled between November 2015 and March 2016 are settling into life in Canada. This research will help inform the department of lessons learned from this initiative and areas to monitor in the future. Results of this research will be released in the coming months.

In addition, on September 8, 2016, IRCC and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council jointly announced that a total of more than $600,000 would be invested in short-term grants to fund 25 research projects on issues that affect the successful resettlement of refugees. Preliminary results were presented at the 19th National Metropolis Conference in March 2017.

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