Over the last six years, the conflict in Syria has resulted in what is internationally recognized as the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, with 5.1 million Syrians fleeing the country as refugees, according to World Vision. As of January, roughly 40,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Canada.
For DeGroote Professor Benson Honig, the cause became personal when he began contributing directly to recent arrivals in Hamilton through his own sponsorship efforts. Today, his interest in helping Syrian immigrant families is also informing his research. He seeks to examine challenges faced by this group of new Canadians, and to identify tools, systems, and interventions that facilitate the integration processes.
“I feel very fortunate to live in Canada, and to see the difference it makes in people’s lives,” says Honig, who serves as DeGroote’s Teresa Cascioli Chair in Entrepreneurial Leadership. “I’m hoping the research we’re doing can impact the community in Hamilton, in Canada, and even globally, as people learn better methods of integrating Syrian immigrants and giving them the resources they need.”
Currently, Honig’s work in this domain has three focus areas. First, after noting vastly different absorption regimes, regulations, and economic environments in settling Syrian immigrants, both here and abroad, Honig is exploring the institutional conditions and policies supporting labour market and entrepreneurship integration. This research is being completed with colleagues in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
“We want to find out what facilitates and impedes integration in different ways,” he says. “So, my colleagues in Europe are also looking at their environments to find out what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. From a theoretical and practical point, it will be interesting to see how effective the measures we are examining are, and also how we can take the best ones and spread them around,” he continues.
For another study, Honig has teamed up with DeGroote Assistant Professor Brent McKnight, McMaster Philosophy Professor Nancy Doubleday, and Olive Wahoush from the School of Nursing. Their research looks at the service implications and mandate expansion that various settlement agencies are undergoing, with factors related to the organizational, cultural, and political integration of Syrian immigrants. Honig says the work could have major implications for future service planning and delivery.
“People are all being treated in the same manner by settlement agencies because they speak the same language, for example,” says Honig. “We need to realize the differences — some people are from rural areas, others from urban ones, some are trades people, others are professionals who have spent time abroad, for example — and offer supports and services that fit people’s specific needs.”
Meanwhile, the implications of language acquisition, job acquisition, entrepreneurship activities, health-related factors, and the role of the shadow economy on the integration of refugees make up Honig’s final study in this area.
“One of the things we know is that people are working formally and informally,” he says. “Normally, we think when someone is taking public money and working under the table, that can’t be good. But no one is going to hire you if your English isn’t good enough, and the informal sector might give people the experiences to become employable in the formal sector. We are looking to find that out.”
While all three studies are in their early stages, Honig says they have the potential to impact a wide range of areas, and will require the involvement of NGOs and the immigrant community to be holistically understood.