It’s the big question that no-one has the courage to ask. What happens in the second year?
Canada is becoming home to 25,000 Syrian refugees before the end of February, people leaving behind civil war and ISIS terror for hope in a new land. To say life here will be a difficult adjustment is probably an understatement. At least we are having a mild winter – although it probably doesn’t seem that way to them.
Private individuals, organizations and churches (especially churches) have stepped up to the plate to sponsor the refugees. For $27,000 you get to take care of a family for a year. After that they are on their own. The government figures that after 12 months they will be completely adjusted to our Canadian way of doing things.
What happens when that year is up? Will those former refugees be fully integrated into Canadian society and be ready to function on their own? Will they have developed the essential support networks necessary to allow them to survive? Given the amount of upheaval and trauma many of these people have experienced, I do wonder if a year is sufficient time to provide support.
After all, it took me more than a year to learn English, though admittedly I was an infant. But those who come to Canada speaking neither English nor French (which I would imagine is the case for many I not most refugees) are not likely to master it in 12 months. That limits employment opportunities, relegating them I would think to low-paid, menial jobs. Their children may become rocket scientists, but the time for that is a long way away.
This new life in Canada may turn out to be very different than what was promised. A minimum wage job pays about $1,900 a month. Take home pay would I imagine be about $1,600, maybe less. Rent for a modest apartment to hold a family of six (which is not a large family by Middle East standards) would be at least $1,000. That leaves $600 for utilities, food, clothing, transportation and other essentials. Nothing left over for luxuries. Trapped in a cycle of poverty it can become very easy to resent your new country.
I worry less about church sponsored refugees. Churches understand, I hope, that there is a moral commitment to what they do, not just a financial one. If a family needs support beyond that first year, churches, as financially strapped as most are, will try and find the money.
But governments are not in the housing business or employment business, beyond setting policy. Are there enough civil service resources to provide for refugees families in need 13 months from now? Already there have been news stories about how some families felt they weren’t receiving enough support as they start their new life in Canada. What happens when they are told they are on their own completely, ready or not?
This is a long term project. The government deadline for bringing Syrian refugees to Canada will have long since passed, but the resettlement issues will linger for years.
I hope as a nation that we rise to the challenge. I suspect we may not. That sows the seeds for further tragedy.