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Syrian refugees: Shifting from crisis response to opportunity

26 de Junio de 2017

Roula El-Rifai

Senior program specialist, IDRC

Welcoming over 30,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in the past year is a reflection of the shared values and generous spirit of Canadians and communities, businesses and governments across this country.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reinforced the country's commitment at the UN General Assembly when he announced that the Government of Canada will increase humanitarian assistance by 10 per cent this fiscal year. In addition, the prime minister announced more than $64.5 million in new multi-year funding to support people affected by humanitarian crises around the globe.

Now that Syrian newcomers have arrived safely in Canada, they can start building their new lives. As the focus shifts from managing the large number of arrivals to integrating families, particularly youth, we see a critical need for more collaboration, research, and knowledge sharing of best practices in Canada and around the world. Delivering real opportunities for refugee success requires a solid understanding of the obstacles refugees face and the best way to address those challenges.

More than half of the newly-arrived Syrian families in Canada are composed of five to eight members, and 56 per cent of arrivals have been children 14 years old or younger. From what we know already, the profile of these newcomers indicates that they could face challenges finding jobs and housing, accessing education, and integrating socially.

More knowledge is required to address issues such as employment and skills development, women's isolation at home, and youth social alienation. Above all, researchers in Canada are saying that we need a longitudinal study to link education and health data to provincial and federal data, as well as a more coordinated approach to research to measure and track the needs and progress of these newcomers.

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has long supported research on refugee and immigration issues. In our formal and informal consultations with researchers, policymakers, practitioners and members of the diplomatic community, it has become clear that meeting refugee needs requires international collaboration, a rapid response approach and local community engagement.

IDRC is assessing how it can contribute to global efforts and support local capacity to manage the refugee crisis in Lebanon and Jordan: where Syrian arrivals have increased the population by 20 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. These and other host countries in the Middle East need innovative ways of providing refugees with basic services, improving conditions in camps and crowded homes, giving refugees a voice and a role in their own development and jumpstarting economic growth. The aim is to partner with other donors to support programming that brings citizens and Syrian refugees together to develop their communities.

IDRC is already supporting a project to improve the accessibility and quality of learning for refugee and host community children in and outside the classroom using digital learning innovations. Designed to be flexible and easy to deploy, these digital education tools and resources will be developed and tested initially in 25 schools in Lebanon and Jordan.

Societies benefit from welcoming refugees as strong contributors to the growth and strength of communities. A collaborative approach that positions evidence as the cornerstone will help Canada and the international community move beyond tackling a crisis towards sharing the responsibility of upholding human dignity.

This op-ed was first published on The Huffington Post on October 25, 2016.

Roula El-Rifai is a Senior Program Specialist at IDRC.