5 Steps to Helping Syrian Refugees Find Home in Canada

Author’s Note: I believe in human dignity, human capacity and human potential. The erosion or eradication of any of these three values creates the conditions for violence- against oneself, against others.

This article was written prior to the recent events in Lebanon, Paris, Syria and Iraq. In a future blog post, I will write a Finding Home perspective on political violence (whether individual, group or State-perpetuated). This article is about our current challenge and opportunity: creating the conditions for Syrian refugees, who are fleeing political violence, to find and create home in Canada.

Ma'loula, Syria

Ma’loula, Syria

I visited Syria in 1987, at a time when no hotels existed in rural areas and there was only one bus a day to most small towns and villages.We were told not to visit small towns or villages, as there was no place to stay and no return buses until the next day. Determined to see all of Syria, especially Ma’loula, where people speak Aramaic (the ancient language that Jesus spoke), we went anyway. We packed our sleeping bags and braced ourselves for a long night spent sleeping in a cave while waiting for the next bus back to Damascus.  Instead, we were greeted in every village by welcoming families who argued over who would have the honor of hosting us in their homes.

Wherever we went, we found ourselves fed and housed, free of charge, by friendly Syrians.

Now, almost 25 years later, Canadians have the chance to not only feed and house Syrians, but to give them an opportunity to create meaningful and productive lives in Canada.

My hope is that we will all step up to the plate.

As Canada welcomes 25,000 Syrian refugees over the next 6 weeks (3,000 of those are coming to BC, where they face waiting lists for housing, language classes and trauma counseling at least a year long),  how can we ensure the long-term success of this settlement process? Is there enough housing being offered?

How do we know whether a community is ready to welcome its new neighbours, and how can we help them get ready?

These issues are at the heart of the critical work that our team is currently engaged with. We have spent the past few months hosting focus groups with non-profit, business, government and community leaders, determined to generate new ways to ensure the sustainability of community-led initiatives like our Belonging Matters dialogue program and framework. The 5-step process that emerged from this research could help turn the challenge of settling Syrian newcomers into a unique opportunity for Canadian communities to participate in their own growth and development.

The 5 steps, as applied to the Syrian Refugee Settlement in Canada, are:  

1.    Community Readiness Assessment It’s essential to ensure that a community and its local host agency are ready to welcome Syrians and provide the resources they will need in order to settle in, integrate and contribute meaningfully to their new home.  Our strengths-based and relationship-focused approach starts by identifying potential community partners and resources.

2.    Community Collaboration Once the community and host agency have determined that they do have the resources and support necessary, we design and facilitate a community collaboration session to ensure that all parties are in a position to contribute their best to the common goal.  

3.    Belonging Matters Conversations’ Series When the community is ready, we offer a 4 part Belonging Matters Conversations Series for the Syrian refugees. During this series,  we create a space to: a) foster a sense of belonging through sharing stories about the meaning and importance of home; b) identify and generate ideas for solving current challenges together; c) connect participants to local community resources and start a peer support network; d) create public education tools and generate participant-led projects that address their priority issues.

4.    Syrian Refugee Leaders Emerge & Public Education Belonging Matters participants are offered the tools and skills necessary to give public presentations about the community-based projects they’ve developed during the Conversations Series. These presentations provide an opportunity to exercise leadership skills, foster cross-cultural understanding and build relationships with their new neighbours.

5.    Celebrating Success At the end of the program, all partners, participants, community members and local media are invited to an event that celebrates their combined efforts and cooperation. This event showcases the public education tools created by the participants, as well as the self-organized projects they’ve developed, carrying the positive outcomes from the program out into the community.

When we use a values-based approach to problem solving, we start by identifying the core values at stake. In this case, that core value is safety.

On one side of the debate are those most concerned about the safety of the Syrian refugees, who are fleeing a 4.5 year civil war; on the other side, those concerned about Canadians’ safety as large numbers of newcomers join their communities. The 5 steps outlined above work to reconcile the concerns from both sides. Belonging Matters dialogues promote cross-cultural understanding, while the collaboration and shared celebrations of success along the way help develop quality relationships between the old and new members of the community. This protects the Syrian refugees from racism and discrimination. It also ensures the safety of Canadians by helping their new neighbors, who have undergone extensive immigration security checks, feel a sense of belonging and commitment to Canada.

The Syrians that I met in Ma’loula considered it an honour to host newcomers in their homes. That same honour is now being offered to Canadians. Let’s take it.


We love supporting your efforts to make real change in the world. If you would like to ensure that your initiative has all the elements needed for lasting and sustainable change with exponential results, contact us at [email protected]or  visit: www.interculturalstrategies.ca

To learn more about how a belonging lens can boost  your initiative’s impact – not just by a little but by a quantum leap, listen to our TEDx Talk at:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOiObEt3TPk&t=11s

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