Unable to find work, many Syrian refugees reluctantly turn to social assistance – Nova Scotia

Syrian refugee Ragheb Alturkmani arrived in Canada on a cloudy day on Jan. 27, 2016, unable to say a single word in English but brimming with happiness he couldn’t express.

After he and his wife moved with their young daughter and two teenage sons into the Halifax apartment that would become their home, he decided he wanted to give back to the community that had welcomed his family.

“I found myself going down, cleaning the street,” Alturkmani says through an interpreter. “Here I thought I was doing good, helping people by cleaning the entrance of the building.”

Alturkmani smiles as he recalls how he swept up what he thought was dirt: It turned out to be salt, put down to de-ice the sidewalk.

“We have so many people with us who have the desire to work and to be productive,” he says.

Seeking work, finding frustration

But Alturkmani’s desire has so far ended in frustration. The former school bus driver is out of work — and he’s not the only one.

Refugees are supported for their first year after landing by either the federal government or private groups. But that support has ended for most Syrian refugees and many have been forced to turn to provincial social assistance, unable to find jobs.

Just shy of 1,500 Syrian refugees landed in Nova Scotia between November 2015 and July of this year. Of those, more than half — 894 adults and children — were on income assistance as of late September, according to the province’s Department of Community Services.

Syrian refugees represent about two per cent of the total number of Nova Scotians receiving such benefits. Income assistance in Nova Scotia includes $620 a month for shelter for a family of three or more, and an additional $275 per adult and $133 per child each month for personal expenses. Families may also qualify for the Canada child benefit program.

(Stephen Silcox/CBC)

The problem for many refugees who haven’t found work is a lack of English-language skills. Another is having Syrian work or educational credentials that aren’t recognized in Canada.

The latter weighs heavily on Easa Al-Hariri, who worked as a dentist in Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria, and had a second job in health-systems management with the country’s Ministry of Health. He, his wife and their four children now live in Dartmouth.

Easa Al-Hariri and his youngest daughter, Yara. (CBC)

“I am very depressed,” he said in an interview at his family’s small townhouse. “For me, it’s not just a…

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