This study examines experiences of refugees that have settled in Newfoundland and Labrador and analyzes factors that can potentially enhance refugee integration and factors that can negatively impact their settlement experiences and retention in the province. We interviewed 114 refugees, including 31 refugee minors, who for purposes of comparison, were divided into new arrivals (targeting the Syrian refugee population) and older cohorts (who were in the province from 2 to 15 years). We also interviewed 16 stakeholders involved in the settlement and integration of refugees, sourced from various community groups, private organisations and government agencies.
Our report produced a number of recommendations divided into broad categories including: Settlement Assistance; Health Care; Language; Cost of Living and Housing; Economic and Labour Market Integration; Social Capital; etc.
First impressions of the province are an extremely important factor that impact refugees’ decisions to stay in or leave the province. Newfoundland and Labrador could benefit from refugees’ overwhelmingly positive impression of its people, whose friendliness, and welcoming and respectful attitude were lauded and sincerely appreciated. On the other hand, even after relatively short period of residency, many respondents have the impression of a potential scarcity of employment opportunities in the province. It is employment that was cited by our respondents as the primary reason for deciding whether to stay in the province or move somewhere else.
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 there were several instances of racism in their workplace.
English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction has been identified as a vital part of integrating refugees into their new homes and is an important first step to acquiring a career or making Canadian friends. Despite language barriers that hinder developing friendships with local people, most respondents had a mix of Canadian, ethnic and other immigrant friends. Diverse circle of friends creates a favourable environment for building strong local ties. Establishing a solid social network is crucial not only for social but also economic integration.
Ensuring that refugees can access health care is an important part of their physical and mental well-being. Among challenges to delivering health services for refugees are language barriers, health navigation and transportation. Stigma about mental health continues to be a common problem and may be a reason why individuals tend to feel uncomfortable talking about the issue.
There are a number of barriers to settlement service delivery in the province including the funding process, lack of translated information or translation services, lack of cooperation between stakeholders, and lack of government action on identified gaps in service delivery. These issues were considered impediments to effective service delivery to newcomer refugee populations.
You can read the full report here.