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Special Focus on the Settlement of Syrian Refugees

posted Dec 9, 2015, 8:40 AM by A Rodney   [ updated Jul 6, 2016, 7:23 AM ]

On December 9th, as a member of the Upper Beaches Lifeline Syria sponsorship group, I participated in the 3rd of 3 webinars about refugee issues put on by Yosief Araya (the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program Coordinator for CatholicCrosscultural Servicestitled "Special Focus on the Settlement of Syrian Refugees”.  This was a fairly short session and here are some highlights. (A summary of the first two webinars can be found here and here.)

Syrian refugees in other countries at present:

2 million + in Turkey

1 million + in Lebanon

600,000 in Jordan

250,000 in Iraq

127,000 in Egypt

Refugees being resettled to Canada are mainly coming from: Lebanon, Jordan

For refugees who are privately sponsored, their date of arrival depends on when the application was submitted.

How Syrian refugees are resettled to Canada

1.    Around 8000 refugees are being resulted through private sponsorships (PSRs), either through sponsorship agreement holders (SAHs), Groups of Five (G5s) or community sponsors (this includes family-linked cases and blended visa cases).

2.    Around 25,000 refugees (by the end of December, 2016) are being resettled through the government-assisted resettlement program (GAR). These are UNHCR-referred cases: they meet UNHCR referrals categories and Canadian priorities  

The UNHCR (and Canada) have resettlement submission categories that prioritize the resettlement of the following:

  •  people who have legal and/or physical protection needs (do not feel safe in their country of asylum…they have faced harassment or violence or risk deportation back to country of origin)
  • survivors of torture and/or violence
  • people who have medical needs (they need immediate medical assistance or else their health will deteriorate if they remain where they are; or the medical assistance they need is unavailable where they are).
  • women and girls at risk
  • family reunification
  • children and adolescents at risk  
  • lack of foreseeable alternative durable solutions (no hope of returning to their home country or resettling where they currently are)

[The categories in red don’t apply to Canada because Canada does not accept unaccompanied children (e.g., orphans) unless they have family here  AND Syrian refugees are not considered “recently” displaced]

-Canada has also emphasized the acceptance of refugees with families/children and sexual minorities (LGBT refugees who are persecuted based on sexual orientation).

Privately-sponsored refugee arrivals in Ontario

The 5 biggest arrivals by the end of 2015 will be in:

1326: Toronto (although this number includes all United Church of Canada-sponsored refugees arriving in Toronto, because the UCC headquarters is in Toronto)

1079: Willowdale (these are mostly Armenian-Syrians sponsored by the Armenian community)

156: Scarborough

141: London

127: Ottawa

What do we anticipate in terms of composition, family size and needs of Syrians who will be resettled?


87%: Muslims (predominantly Sunni Muslims)

13%: minority Muslims

10%: Christian

3%: Druze

Ethnic makeup

90% Arabs

10% Kurds, Armenians, others

-This composition does not necessarily mirror who is privately sponsored e.g., the 1000 Armenians who are privately sponsored

-UNHCR-selected refugees, however, reflect the composition of the larger Syrian population.


84% literate (90% of men, 77% of women)

-a mix of highly educated and limited education


-some speak English or French

Family composition

-51% women, 41% men

-52% of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18

-most refugees are families with children

-average family size is 4

Health conditions Syrian refugees may have experienced

-vaccine-preventable diseases (immunization upon arrival is key)

-trauma and mental illness

-injuries and disabilities

-sexual violence

Syrian customs

-in terms of greetings, it is common to shake hands except not always between women and men in the Muslim community

-between men and women, as a sign of respect they would put their hands on their chest and bow a little bit instead of hand shaking  

-they are expressive and use a lot of gestures when they talk (this is not aggressive)

-it is common for women of same sex to hold hand or walk arm in arm

-eye contact when interacting is normal


Parents expect kids to come home with tons of homework (to make sure the kids are working hard towards their school duties). It’s considered a sign of learning if they come home with homework. This is perhaps because the school day is much shorter in Syria (8-1). There were no such thing as split classes in Syria (it’s a sign there are not enough teachers)


Middle Eastern food and tea; not eating their food is a sign of disrespect


Alcohol consumption (for certain Muslims); pork


-premarital sex is considered taboo. As such, asking an unmarried woman if she has children is an insult.


CIC, population profile – Syrian refugees Nov 2015

Welcome Refugees - Federal website