Syrian refugees help fellow newcomers

Efforts aim to build professional connections, share information with new Canadians


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When Ismail Ibrahim looks out at Winnipeg’s skyline, he sees potential and wants to leave his mark on it.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/01/2017 (2101 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Ismail Ibrahim looks out at Winnipeg’s skyline, he sees potential and wants to leave his mark on it.

The civil engineer from Syria was a construction manager who helped build the world’s tallest skyscraper — the 163-storey Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. He arrived in Canada with his family in September and is already working toward having his engineering credentials recognized so he can someday get to work on something grand for Winnipeg.

“You’ll see, it will be different.”

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nour Ali (right) and Ismail Ibrahim are learning about the safety culture of Manitoba workplaces and sharing that information with other newcomers.

After being in Canada less than four months, the trilingual Syrian Kurd obtained his Manitoba driver’s licence and is volunteering to help other newcomers get behind the wheel so they can get to work.

Already, one of the people he’s coached has landed a job as a driver for a transportation company.

Finding a job within a year of arriving in Canada is typical for nearly half of all privately sponsored refugees, one western immigration expert says.

“This has to do with the connections their sponsors have,” said Lori Wilkinson, director of Immigration Research West and Journal of International Migration and Integration editor-in-chief. Close to half of the Syrian refugees welcomed to Canada are too young to work yet, she noted.

It’s hard to gauge how well working-age, government-assisted refugees — who arrived without any connections to family or private sponsors — are doing a year into their resettlement, said Wilkinson, a University of Manitoba sociology professor.

“It really depends on what their occupation was prior to arrival, level of education and their English/French language ability at arrival,” Wilkinson said, adding local economic conditions matter, too.

In finding a job — and just about every other aspect of newcomer integration — nothing matters more than connections, says one of the first Syrian refugees — also privately sponsored — to arrive in Winnipeg.

Nour Ali, who has lived in Winnipeg for four years and is now a homeowner, said jobs are where adults are going to learn practical English and feel as if they’re productive and contributing to Canada.

“It’s a practical way to learn,” added Ibrahim, who managed construction workers with limited English in Dubai from India, Bangladesh and other countries.

“They don’t need a high level,” added Ali, who works for Winnipeg Building and is starting his own company on the side called Thank You Canada. It’s trying to line up work opportunities for newcomers, and not just Syrians. Right now, he said, they’re on the hunt for work for Yazidi refugees from Iraq.

On Wednesday, he and Ibrahim attended workshops at SAFE Work Manitoba — the public agency dedicated to the prevention of workplace injury and illness. They’re learning about the safety culture of Manitoba workplaces and sharing that information with other newcomers to help them prepare for what’s expected on the job here.

Ali and Ibrahim are part of a Syrian men’s group that meets once a week to talk about the issues affecting them and their families.

On Saturday, they’re hosting a one-year anniversary party at the Freight House Community Centre to celebrate their time in Canada, and they’re inviting the settlement workers and volunteers who have given them such a warm welcome.

“We feel we belong to this country and are thankful,” said Ali, who wants to make sure newcomers have the same opportunities he received.

Volunteer work is part of a “pass it ahead” philosophy he’s spreading among the Syrian community. He learned it from his sponsors connected to the Mennonite Central Committee.

When Ali became self-sufficient, he wanted to show his thanks to the MCC. He was told that the best way to show his gratitude was to help someone else in need. “You don’t give back, you pass it ahead.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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