It has been about nine months since Saint John began welcoming dozens of Syrian families to the city.
However, in that time a number of families have left the city. Many others are preparing to go and several more say they’re seriously considering moving on.
The families are leaving for a variety of reasons, interpreter Rhama Bakir says most simply don’t see a future in the port city and feel isolated.
Many families were settled in the Crescent Valley neighbourhood. Speaking through Bakir, Mahmoud Moussa Basha says that has made integration difficult.
“They feel like they just picked them up and dropped them here all together,” Moussa Basha said. “Why they didn’t choose different places for all the families so they have neighbours, like Canadian neighbours.”
Crescent Valley has made an effort to welcome their new Syrian neighbours, but alleged incidents involving drugs and harassment are tarnishing the community’s efforts.
Other families say they’re having difficulty getting into schools and finding full time work.
Younes Alkalaf wants to start his own business, but has made up his mind that Saint John won’t be where he does it — he plans to head to Vancouver in a matter of days.
“It’s going to cost him around $6,000, $7,000 — but he decided to invest that money for the unknown but probably better for his family,” said Alkalaf through Bakir.
The YMCA of Greater Saint John has been the central point for Syrian immigrants. They say the news of potential departures is bothersome.
“We really want our newest residents to stay here and continue to be part of our community, so it is upsetting, it is surprising as well,” said Shilo Boucher, YMCA president and CEO.
The solution to keeping the Syrian families in the city may come down to Saint Johners showing more support.
“We need to take this seriously and work together as a whole community to figure out how we connect with them maybe on another level, on the next level and really make sure they feel supported,” Boucher said.
Bakir says besides the Syrian families who have already left or are planning to leave, as many as 40 others are giving it strong consideration.