Skip to main content

The Senate Committee on Human Rights has written an important report on the difficulties facing refugees who have come to Canada over the past year. Most have recently come from Syria, but the findings apply generally to any refugee coming to Canada to make a new life.

In particular, the senators found that many of the past year's refugees still need more help learning at least one of Canada's official languages – because language is critical to a refugee's success.

Many of the refugees from Syria came to Canada with only a certain amount of money, for one year, much of it provided by loans, and otherwise relied on support from sponsors. They are now beginning to dread "Month 13," when interest payments start to kick in and they begin to find themselves in debt.

Read more: New report offers glimpse into lives of British Columbia's Syrian refugees

Read more: Senate committee calls on Ottawa to do more for refugee integration

Read more: One year after arrival, Syrian refugees continue to face employment barriers

When the federal money starts to run out, provincial government money doesn't replace it. And daycare, which many will need in order to work, is often expensive.

It's not the government's fault, nor that of the refugees, that many have not fully absorbed a new language in a year, the length of the time that the government has indirectly budgeted for. English isn't an easy language, and what's more, it's distant from Arabic. It's not like the differences between Italian and French, or even German and English.

Women refugees, in particular, run the risk of falling behind. If they stay at home, they are apt to become isolated, and they may not learn much more than rudimentary English or French. They can't learn a language well if they don't have jobs and daycare.

The senators found that almost all the Syrian refugees were glad to be in Canada, and to have permanent status here. Still, this is part of the biggest displacement of people since the Second World War, and there's bound to be some degree of post-traumatic stress syndrome that will further complicate matters, the senators said.

There is little likelihood that Syrian refugees to Canada will become an underclass, and there is no need for quasi-permanent subsidies. But more funding to help all refugees break the language barrier would be wise. It's a sound investment. When new Canadians succeed economically, all Canadians benefit.

Interact with The Globe