'We Feel Like We're Home5: The Resettlement and Integration of Syrian Refugees in Smaller and Rural Canadian Communities.

Author:Haugen, Stacey


Despite the media attention to Syrian refugee families being welcomed, finding work, and feeling at home in small towns across Cariada, little is known about resettlement and integration in smaller and rural communities. Addressing this knowledge gap, this study visited four rural communities across four provinces in an effort to highlight the experiences of smaller and rural communities and the refugees living there. Based on interviews and conversations with rural refugee sponsors and community members, Syrian refugees, and service providers, the findings tell a story of refugees being welcomed into rural and smaller communities and of communities coming together to support the newcomers and find solutions to rural challenges. The article concludes that rural places can have a lot to offer refugees, some of whom settle permanently in these areas, and their experiences should be included as part of the larger narrative of refugee resettlement in Canada.


Malgre l'attention mediatique portee envers l'accueil, l'emploi et le sentiment de se sentir chez soi des familles de refugies Syriens dans de petites villes a travers le Canada, on sait peu de choses sur leur reinstallation et leur integration dans les communautes rurales. Cette etude comble cette lacune en visitant quatre communautes rurales et les refugies qui y vivent. S'appuyant sur des entrevues et des conversations avec les parrains en region rurale et les membres de la communaute, les refugies syriens et les prestataires de services, les resultats racontent l'histoire de refugies ayant ete accueillis dans des communautes rurales et de petite taille, et de communautes qui se sont rassemblees pour soutenir les nouveaux arrivants et trouver des solutions aux defis ruraux. Carticle conclut que les regions rurales ont beaucoup a offrir aux refugies, dont certains s'y installent de facon permanente, et que leurs experiences devraient etre incluses dans la narration plus large de la reinstallation des refugies au Canada.


"We feel like we're home," is what Boushra Albik told the Globe and Mail in 2016 about her new home in Claresholm, a small town with a population of 3,758 in southern Alberta. Boushra, her husband, Ziad, and their young son, Elyas, are Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon in 2015 and were privately sponsored into their new Canadian community by the Faith Community Baptist Church. The article goes on to say that Ziad is hoping to work as a barber in the small community, since the previous barber has retired, and members of the church are helping the family run errands, as there is no public transportation in the area. Boushra and Ziad also comment that they "feel loved" in the small community and miss their new home when they travel to Calgary to visit friends or run errands. (1) Across the country in Nova Scotia, Assam Hadhad, a successful chocolate maker from Damascus, Syria, and his family were settling into their new home in Antigonish, a small community of 5,000. They opened the now famous chocolate factory, Peace by Chocolate, in 2016 and are expanding their business and employing other Syrian refugees across the country. Tareq Hadhad told CBC that his family has been overwhelmed by the support of the small community, and that "without being in Antigonish, without being in this lovely community, really none of that could happen." (2)

These are only two examples of Syrian refugees finding a new home in smaller and rural communities across Canada. Other media articles from numerous sources including the CBC, Global News, and the Globe and Mail speak of Syrian refugees settling in rural Canada and being welcomed into their new communities. (3) However, despite the media interest, very little is known about the processes of resettlement and integration outside of urban Canada. With funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), this study begins to address this knowledge gap and asks, What does refugee resettlement and integration look like in rural Canada? And, in the context of a global refugee crisis, are smaller and rural Canadian communities being under-utilized as sites for refugee resettlement?

This article makes a positive claim for the value of smaller communities and rural resettlement. My findings support the argument that many rural communities provide good integration opportunities for refugees, who are learning English, finding work, buying homes, and feeling welcomed in rural Canada. Before diving deeper into the challenges, innovations, and benefits of rural resettlement, the article will provide background on the resettlement system in Canada and a discussion of what is meant by the term rural Canada. Despite the challenges that refugees face in rural communities, including lack of public transportation and access to specialized services, this is overwhelmingly a positive story, and the experiences of community members and refugees in rural areas must be included in the broader narrative of refugee resettlement in Canada.


Refugees can be resettled into Canada through government assistance or the private sponsorship program. Through the Government Assisted Refugee (GAR) Program refugees are referred to Canada for resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and refugees receive support for one year from the government of Canada (or province of Quebec). (4) The majority of government-assisted refugees are resettled in urban centres across the country, such as Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Edmonton, (5) and are supported by service-provider organizations that are funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The government of Canada works with provinces and territories, service-provider organizations, and other partners and stakeholders to deliver services and provide resources to refugees. Services available through this network include, but are not limited to, language training, career supports, and help accessing support services such as child care and interpretation services. (6) A limited number of service-provider organizations have a signed agreement with the IRCC designating them as Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) centres. (7) Under rap, the Canadian government or province of Quebec provides government-assisted refugees with essential services and income support. (8) RAP service-provider organizations exist throughout the country, with the majority, but not all, located in large cities. (9)

Private sponsorship across the country occurs through two streams of sponsorship. The first is strictly private sponsorship, in which sponsors can name the individual(s) they want to sponsor into their community or be matched with a refugee through an inventory of visa office-referred cases. In this stream, sponsors pay the full cost of resettlement, which is laid out by the government of Canada and includes a startup allowance for refugees and monthly stipend based on family size. Sponsoring groups agree to provide the refugees with care, lodging, settlement assistance, and support for twelve months or until the refugee becomes self-sufficient. (10) The second stream is called the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. The government of Canada provides up to six months of RAP income support, and the sponsors provide another six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support. (11) Refugees sponsored through the private sponsorship program can be resettled anywhere across Canada that a sponsorship group has formed, including in rural and smaller communities.

Much of the research that has been conducted on refugee resettlement and integration in Canada has neglected to study private sponsorship and the unique experiences of smaller communities and the refugees who settle there. In 2017 the Refugee Research Network and Centre for Refugee Studies at York University submitted a policy brief to the government of Canada on the state of private refugee sponsorship. The brief identified this rural knowledge gap and recognized the need for further research, stating that "it would also be productive to discover how PSRS [privately sponsored refugees] fare in cities compared to smaller centres or rural areas." (12) In 2011 the Canadian Council for Refugees published a report entitled "Refugee Integration: Key Concerns and Areas for Further Research." Regarding access to settlement services, private sponsors, academics, and settlement practitioners felt more research was needed on access to settlement services in different provincial jurisdictions, how experiences differ between smaller communities and larger cities, and if the centralization of settlement agencies and services in urban centres affects integration. (13)

What is understood as rural is a highly debated and contested topic. For many analysts and researchers, the term is a reflection of distance and population density, while for others it is a social construction that reflects a specific history, lifestyle, and local knowledge. (14) While the concept is fluid and changes, depending on the community and the context, "there is a general understanding that rural areas are places that generally have smaller populations, are distant from urban areas and have distinct identities and cultural ties." (15) Rural Canada is extremely diverse, and the economic, social, cultural, ecological, physical, and linguistic characteristics of rural communities vary from province to province, and from community to community. (16) For example, rural economies can range from single-industry communities, such as those that depend solely on fishing or tourism, to mixed economies. While some rural areas may boast vibrant and growing economies, others lack job opportunities and have a high rate of unemployment. (17)

Rural communities in Canada today are facing numerous obstacles and many are struggling to survive. Globalization and the...

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