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Syrian refugee families embrace life in Halifax

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WATCH ABOVE: Hundreds of Syrian refugees have arrived in Halifax since December of last year. While other cities are struggling to find ways to make them stay, Halifax is doing all the right things – Sep 8, 2016

While some provinces are struggling to hold onto new immigrants, Nova Scotia seems to have things figured out.

The first government-assisted Syrian refugees arrived in the province in December of last year.

Since then, hundreds of others have followed in their footsteps with the hopes of making Nova Scotia their home and many of them are deciding to stay long-term.

READ MORE: Dalhousie coding camp helps Syrian students transition to life in Canada

According to the Nova Scotia government, the province has welcomed more than 1,000 Syrians through private, blended and government-assisted sponsorship since December.

While the Office of Immigration does not track retention numbers, the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) said the vast majority of newcomers are staying in the province.

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“I think the Syrians are doing well here. People are staying,” ISANS’ executive director Gerry Mills said.

“We’ve had one family move but they had family out west and they should have been there in the first place quite honestly. We’re happy they could be reunited with their family.”

Mills said their organization takes a “case management approach” to working with their clients in order to ensure that the proper resources are available.

“We have people attached to one person even though there are a lot of people engaged. So people aren’t dropping through the cracks for sure here,” Mills said.

“We’re making sure that people are connected to the resources they need whether it’s health, education, community resources, housing. ”

Mills said while it’s difficult to predict how many refugees will decide to stay long-term, there are three main determining factors  – family, community and jobs.

“People need to be able to look after their families. So, economic integration is something we’re going to be putting a lot more resources into in the next little while.”

ISANS is also ramping up their language program offerings in an effort to clear the waitlist. Childcare services will also be available to make it easier for parents to get the language help they need.

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Mills also said the Syrian community is growing stronger.

“The leaders are emerging. People were also in camps together or in areas in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. So they’re coming here and knowing folks.”

READ MORE: Halifax groups prepare to help Syrian refugees adjust to language, cultural changes

It was earlier this year when Shahin Ali, his wife Yasmine and their two young daughters were greeted by their sponsorship group at the Halifax airport.

“When we arrived at the airport, they came to us with signs and balloons and welcome. It was very very special moment for us,” Ali said.

The Open Harbour Refugee Association sponsored the family through the Canadian government’s private refugee sponsorship program and brought them to Nova Scotia from Turkey.

Since then, the family of four has been settling into life in their new home.

“Everybody is lovely, everybody says hello when they see us. They know we are from Syria (and) they want to help. I have a neighbour here, they help us every time they meet us,” Ali said.

The young father is now looking for a full-time job. He studied geology in university and has 10 years experience working in the oilfield. Like many other Nova Scotians, he said he’s often told he should go out west.

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“When I say I work in the oilfield everyone says Alberta. But I refuse that. I have a lot of friends here so I want to stay. I will search for a job. That’s all. I want to stay in Halifax.”

That is something the family’s sponsorship group hopes to help him with.

“I also think that Halifax, by nature of its size, there’s a relatively smaller and tight-knit community, there’s an ability to bring resources and connections and other people in to assist us,” Richard Donald, of the Open Harbour Refugee Association, said.

“That’s certainly been the case in the work we’ve been doing to try to find Shahin some work in his field.”

READ MORE: ‘I want to be Canadian’: Syrian refugee children start 1st year of school in Toronto

Donald said Terrapure Environment offered Ali a six-week placement to help him get Canadian workplace experience and Falck Safety Services Canada offered oil and gas-related health and safety courses. He said one of the biggest challenges for refugees is finding work in their field of expertise.

The group was able to raise enough money to bring the Ali family to Canada and sponsor their first year. They are continuing to meet and work with them on a regular basis.

“We’ve been working under the blended program together with the sponsorship agency, ISANS. I think one of the benefits of that is that we have a lot of people within our group who are working to support the Ali family,” Donald said.

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“We hope that through our group, we can help the Ali family build connections and build a home in Nova Scotia for the benefit of all of us.”

The Open Harbour Refugee Association is hoping to be able to sponsor more families in the future and is looking for community support.