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Overcoming Barriers to Integration: Livelihood Rebuilding Strategies of Refugees in Vancouver Kirby Huminuik Psychosocial Counsellor, Vancouver Assoc.

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Presentation on theme: "Overcoming Barriers to Integration: Livelihood Rebuilding Strategies of Refugees in Vancouver Kirby Huminuik Psychosocial Counsellor, Vancouver Assoc."— Presentation transcript:

1 Overcoming Barriers to Integration: Livelihood Rebuilding Strategies of Refugees in Vancouver Kirby Huminuik Psychosocial Counsellor, Vancouver Assoc. for Survivors of Torture MA (Cand.) Counselling Psychology, UBC

2 Overview Success stories: overcoming barriers to integration Livelihood rebuilding strategies used by refugees and their unresolved problems Recommendations of refugee working group

3 Success stories A major indicator of integration is the acquisition and maintenance of stable work This process is very demanding for refugee newcomers Pre-migration stressors: Well-founded fear of persecution Post-migration stressors: Challenges of re-settlement A measure of success is the fact that all participants developed livelihood rebuilding strategies, however we do not ignore the unresolved problems they encountered throughout this process

4 Table 1. Descriptive Information for the Interview Sample (n= 10) CharacteristicF (n=5)M(n=5)% of Total RegionMiddle East3250 Africa2240 Latin America110 Age Family statusSingle income/ no depend Single income/ depend.2020 Two income no children1010 Two income with children1010 English skillFluent on arrival1120 Learned in Canada4480 Empl. historyNo prev. employment1010 Semi-skilled worker2020 Trades/ skilled worker0220 Professional2350

5 Livelihood rebuilding strategies Establishing safety Increasing English language fluency Creating social support networks Accessing social services (especially income assistance and settlement services) Seeking initial Canadian employment Increasing job satisfaction (Re)training Relying on personal coping resources

6 For those who are fleeing political violence and who come to Canada to seek protection as refugees, safety is of paramount concern The foundational strategy for all subsequent livelihood building is to obtain refugee protection and family reunification For the immigrant person, everything is easy. But for the refugee, you cant use your power for your work, because you have a lot to worry about: your life is in danger! And so only when you become safe, only then can you start your life here. We have a saying in Arabic: you cant take two watermelons in one hand. 1. Establishing safety for oneself and immediate family members

7 Safety implies not only freedom from abuse in ones country of origin but also the freedom from threats to security, and the ability to access societal resources in the new environment Participants described on-going threats to safety, including: Fear of being returned to their country of origin while awaiting lengthy refugee determination processes Fear for spouses and children remaining in unsafe conditions while awaiting family reunification Systemic barriers related to their immigration status Experiences of discrimination and racism Establishing Safety, Unresolved Problems:

8 2. Building a social support network Benefits of social support to livelihood building: Practical assistance Accommodation, clothing, orientation to processes and systems, referral to social service organizations, financial help Job opportunities: a foot in the door I think the best way to start to work here in Canada is to know somebody. You cant just knock on the door. You need help to come in.

9 Benefits, continued Mentorship - sharing knowledge and experience within newcomer communities Psychological support - coping with emotional suffering Coming to Canada you dont know anybody, you dont have family here. I was once very depressed and sometimes it still comes. But meeting people and having some reason to go out there, by the end of the day you are happy, you feel alive again.

10 Building Support Networks, Unresolved problems: Financial precariousness Participants sometimes found, or feared, that their newly established social networks would not be able to support them in times of dire need Mis-information from community members Several participants described receiving discouraging, inaccurate, or exploitative information from community members who had been in Vancouver longer than they had

11 3. Seeking Initial Canadian Employment Developing job search strategies Learning about the formal and informal ways of obtaining employment in the new environment, promoting their practical and transferable skills to potential employers, and building a network of personal contacts for referrals and childcare Participants emphasized informal means of obtaining employment, such as through social networks and volunteering I checked the local newspaper and I sent resumes to the people that were asking for employees… but I didnt get any calls… This was kind of depressing but I learned then that if you want to succeed in Canada you cant sit and wait for them to call. Because once you get that work permit now it is left to you to do it.

12 Willingness to accept unsatisfying initial employment Regardless of education or experience, all participants entered the job market through temporary, unskilled work, often holding a range of part-time jobs until they were able to find something more secure Many felt that it was most important simply to be working, and that having a choice of occupations would hopefully come later Any kind of work you have to do here, it doesnt change who you are, it just helps you. If you start any kind of job you can make your life better. You can go up and show your education later. Initial Canadian Employment

13 Seeking initial employment, Unresolved problems: Limited social network Social contacts without access to higher levels of employment Unrecognized credentials and experience Beginning with entry-level, unskilled jobs as if they were novice workers was frustrating, demoralizing and time-consuming for all of the participants Distraction from further job seeking Entry-level jobs were so demanding that they did not have the time to continue the job search or to improve English skills, and were not in the right environments to make contacts in their field

14 Lack of enforcement of employment standards and difficult working conditions Participants found that employers often did not understand the regulations governing work permits, were simply unwilling to hire work permit holders, or used participants desperation to enter the workforce to exploit them Several participants shared stories of being paid in cash, being paid less than minimum wage, working more than eight hours with no overtime and no paid breaks, and of feeling fear that they would lose their job unless they over-worked Several participants reported being overwhelmed by hard physical labour and sustaining serious injuries due to fatigue, lack of training or inexperience Unresolved problems, continued

15 4. Strategies for Increasing Job Satisfaction All of the ten participants were able to move into more satisfying positions using the following strategies: Gaining Canadian experience Adapting to the new employment culture Defending their rights as workers in Canada Having adequate childcare Volunteering Moving frequently from job to job in search of better opportunities Deciding to upgrade or retrain

16 Increasing Job Satisfaction, Unresolved Problems: Participants are only five years into the livelihood rebuilding process.

17 Recommendations to address unresolved problems: A refugee working group reviewed the findings and made recommendations, including: Promote anti-racism and antidiscrimination with a refugee specific focus Outreach to ethnic communities to ensure members are well informed Enforce employment standards

18 Recommendations, continued Counselling services for refugees Longer term supportive and career counselling in addition to the orientation, information, practical assistance and trauma therapy currently available Formalized volunteer program for refugees Refugee serving agencies should develop a volunteer program so that refugees can access their field, learn the new culture of their profession, make contacts and gain Canadian experience Refugee mentorship and support group meetings Social support, encouragement, information Anti-discrimination/ anti-racism strategies Community building and mutual aid

19 In Conclusion The strategies refugees use to successfully overcome challenges to livelihood building depend on their individual well-being and capacity for action and are supported by social and societal resources The refugee working group has made recommendations that would strengthen all three domains


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