Skip to main content

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children, Me to We and We Day. Find out more at Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

There may be fewer news cameras and cabinet ministers welcoming Syrian refugees at Canadian airports since the first exhausted arrivals landed to great fanfare. But the warm greetings have continued for newcomers in communities from Antigonish, N.S., to tiny Brownfield, Alta., reflecting a whole nation's generous embrace.

Our parents are two of countless Canadians clearing out closets and storage lockers to find furniture and other items to help refugee families establish their new life here. In addition to the Syrians, about 12,000 refugees arrive each year in our country from other ravaged regions – most without permanent residence, or sponsorship. An estimated 20 per cent of these individuals wind up living in homeless shelters.

Even those who secure a decent place to live need to adjust to new food, surroundings, language and cultural norms; this takes time and requires support. So, too, does finding a job and mental health services to cope with the trauma of events left behind, according to a 2011 report by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

Successful integration is a "two-way street" involving "both the newcomer and the receiving society," say the report's authors.

An oft-cited global study of cultural adaptation out of Norway found that having at least one stable family relationship, plus a network of supportive teachers and friends, boosts the sense of resilience refugees have in their transition to a new life.

And, more than ever, it's important that Muslim refugees feel they are welcome members of our communities, says David Lau of Victoria's Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. "Strike up a conversation, and if you're feeling adventurous say, 'As-salamu alaykum' (Peace be with you)."

If you're not sure how to help newcomers to Canada, check out our experts' tips below. And if you have a suggestion, share your ideas in the comment section.

What can Canadians do to help support refugees in our communities in the long term?


Tamara Hoogerdyk, settlement services coordinator, New Canadians Centre, Peterborough, Ont.

"Become a volunteer tutor. To help someone learn English is an obvious option, but it may be more helpful to be a job mentor: someone to 'buddy' with a refugee in their job search. You could also be a mentor in their field of work who provides advice and connections."

Ratna Omidvar, executive director, Global Diversity Exchange, Ryerson University, Toronto

"Invite a refugee family for dinner and have a conversation with them about their lives and your lives. Contact a local private sponsor group using the searchable database on the federal government's immigration website, or connect with an intermediary group like Lifeline Syria or Ottawa's Refugee 613."

Caroline Dailly, manager, resettlement assistance program, Immigrant Services Society of BC, Vancouver

"The children of refugee families will be in schools and can be expected to be unsure, timid, maybe even scared. If you're a parent, speak to your children about this so they can be prepared to help welcome these refugee children, by inviting them to play at recess, or to join their lunch group, learning a few words in Arabic and helping them with English."

Have your say in the comments.