Many of us have made assumptions about the refugees from Syria, and I’m not referring to the racism, bigotry, and Islamophobia that we hear from many politicians, pundits, and commenters on social media. I am referring to the assumptions from those willing to assist the refugees about the skill and abilities of these potential residents.
PEI, with an approximate population of 140,000 is preparing to accept 250 refugees over the next year. This really isn’t very many, but the support from the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. Islanders have been extremely generous in their donations of money, clothing, and other immediate needs. Although there have been discussions about the long term absorption of Syrians into our society, there has been some major assumptions made about these refugees.
When we think about refugees, we most often think of those driven from arid, poverty stricken areas of Africa, but assumptions exist about these people as well. We have the idea that refugees have few, if any, skills that are transferable to our society.
Our local paper has an article in which a member of the provincial legislature thinks these refugees could provide relief for labour shortages on farms and in fish processing plants. While language barriers and immediate concerns may require many Syrians to work in unskilled low paying jobs, it is not necessary for all, and certainly not in a longer term.
The civil war has displaced between 1/3 and 1/2 of the population. This displacement cuts across all socio-economic statuses of the population, and those leaving the camps are often people with education and money.
Recent figures from the U.N. and other aid organizations, however, have shown that the majority of people arriving in Europe often come from upper middle class, well-educated backgrounds….
Syrians are different from other refugees in that they are far more likely to come from professional backgrounds than refugees originating in African countries like Eritrea, for instance, according to migration experts.
We are all aware of the issues with immigrants to Canada working in jobs far below their education and training.
“We’ve all heard the stories of the doctors driving the cabs,” she said. “Those stories are all true and the statistics do bear out that internationally trained professionals, whether they’re immigrants or refugees, have a hard time getting work in our country that’s commensurate with their skills, education, and experience.”
Andersen says that only one in four to one in five immigrants to Canada is working in a field and pay grade for which they’re qualified.
This will be a major issue for our new residents but can provide a solutions for other areas of our economy beyond taxi drivers and labourers. The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. has recognized the issue and is taking steps to assist foreign professionals have their credentials recognized.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada currently has an Express Entry program for skilled workers wishing to immigrate. The list of preferred professions is quite long, and includes those with experience in such varied fields as human resources, health care, insurance underwriters, Information Technology, engineers, and water and waste treatment plant operators.
There is no reason to believe that the skill sets of many of our new Syrian refugees will have experience in many of these fields. Yes, many will need help with language barriers and adjustments to a new culture, but English and French are two of the most common languages that professionals of all countries use to communicate internationally. It is common in Syria for educated people to speak one or both of these languages. It would be difficult, if not impossible to obtain university transcripts or accreditations, but these are not insurmountable obstacles.
Canadians most let go of many of our assumptions about refugees and immigrants and move beyond taxi drivers and farm hands and look to them to fill professional jobs in Canada.