A new research report from the Stephen Jarislowsky chair of cultural and economic transformation at Memorial examines the experiences of refugees that have settled in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The report analyzes factors that can potentially enhance refugee integration and factors that may negatively impact their settlement experiences and retention in the province.
Based on in-depth personal interviews of 114 refugees and 16 stakeholders in the settlement industry, Dr. Tony Fang and his team of researchers provide a number of recommendations in the report, which is divided into broad categories, including welcoming communities; settlement assistance; language training/learning; health care; cost of living and housing; economic and labour market integration.
“Refugees have many of the same experiences as non-refugees living in Newfoundland and Labrador – they face high unemployment rates, long wait times for health care, and buy cars rather than navigate the city’s public transportation route,” said Dr. Fang.
“The difference is that refugees are still adjusting to their new homes, in particular learning the language, and one year of assistance is not enough to prepare them for the labour market. The government, settlement agencies, educational institutions and employers need to make a concerted effort to facilitate the settlement and integration of refugees to the province.”
The report found that the respondents’ first impressions of Newfoundland and Labrador are an extremely important factor that impacted their decision to stay in or leave the province. There was an overwhelmingly positive impression of the people here, whose friendliness and welcoming and respectful attitude were lauded and sincerely appreciated.
“People are very nice in here. As I was coming I thought I was going to move away from here, but as I met the people then I changed my mind and now I want to stay here,” said one respondent.
On the other hand, even after a relatively short period of residency, many respondents had the impression of a potential scarcity of employment opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Respondents cited employment as the primary reason for deciding whether to stay in the province or move elsewhere.
While most of the newly arrived refugees were near the end of their one-year settlement assistance, their language skills were still weak and they were not quite ready to enter the labour market. Many in the older cohorts reported moving from the one-year federal assistance to provincial social assistance.
Older cohorts with more labour market experience were generally unemployed or underemployed and several instances of racism in their workplace were reported.