Thank you for having me here. I'm honoured to be participating in this study regarding the settlement of Syrian refugees in Canada.
The Syrian newcomer settlement initiative is so expansive that it requires a collaborative effort on many fronts. Some of the organizations that I work collaboratively with are the Scarborough Muslim Association, Masjid Al Jannah, Malton Masjid, ISNA, Pickering Islamic Centre, Muslim Welfare Centre, the Southeast Dental Clinic, as well as several hundred dedicated individuals, like Muzammil Mahmood, Tina Aseffa, Khadija Cajee, Humera Khan, Iqbal Shaikh, Fahad Hasan, Sameer Sait, Rashid Mohammad, and Dr. lkramuddin Syed, all of whom volunteer their time, their professions and their skills to make things happen on the ground.
I would first like to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the Canadian government on behalf of all the Syrian newcomers and numerous volunteers who are working on the ground for this cause and for the government's decision to bring in 25,000 refugees in a short period of time. There should not be an iota of doubt in anyone's mind that the decision to open our doors and hearts for Syrian refugees was a correct one. Despite the challenges and economic costs involved, a few years from now, history will witness this massive undertaking to be a monumental and honourable achievement.
Our first family of five arrived on February 6. Although it has been over four months now, it feels like only yesterday, and words cannot express the immense joy we all felt in receiving this family. The honourable Salma Zahid personally visited the family. This gave them a lot of encouragement and support. Thank you. It was a truly emotional moment as the family broke down in tears and were continuously thanking and praying for the sponsors and all Canadians. I can still hear the silence of that moment. Moving on, with a quick succession of social gatherings, outings, and community support, we were able to build trust and help them get adjusted to life in Canada.
We followed a planned curriculum for the families, including steps that were to be taken on their first day of landing to the tasks that had to be accomplished in the first week, the first few months, three months, six months, and so on. This also included medical and dental checkups.
I am happy to say that in about three months the family was independent and living life as common residents. They have received their OHIP cards. They have received their child benefits. They are enrolled in ESL, and their kids are attending public school, as well as evening spiritual classes at the Scarborough Muslim Association.
They know where Canada is located in the world. They know the emergency procedures, the rights of women, children, and others, the laws regarding smoking, driving, and drinking. They are able to do household chores. They know how to operate coin laundry machines and home appliances, use public transit, do banking transactions, and make and attend health appointments all by themselves.
If anything can wipe away the images of a young child washed ashore from our minds, it will be the tears of joy and the smiles on the faces of these families and kids who have been given a new chance at life.
The iTrust Foundation collaborated with the Scarborough Muslim Association and Masjid Jannah, and conducted a survey to inform the newcomers of the settlement checklist and also to plan for what's beyond six months.
We found the following elements in the settlement process to be encouraging: the interim federal health coverage, the one-year financial security, the child benefits, public awareness and community support both material and social, supplementary payments by Scarborough Muslim Association for its families, and spiritual education being offered at no cost.
Aside from mental health and the language deficiency, challenges like the lack of availability of language instruction, affordable housing, and what have you are quite similar to those faced by the general immigrant population. Nevertheless, with time, patience, and hard work, we believe these challenges can easily be overcome.
This group of Syrian newcomers are significantly different from the usual immigrant population that arrives in Canada every year, in that they have experienced significant trauma and stress, including physical torture, personal loss, and forced separation from their loved ones, homes, communities, and livelihoods.
This presents a huge responsibility on society at large to embrace and welcome them. The general community has done a spectacular job in this regard by organizing social events, family outings, workshops, and so on in an effort to reach out and ease the refugees' resettlement process.
The sheer number of hard-working volunteers speaks to the scale and the magnitude of this initiative, and iTrust Foundation is launching a new app to help streamline the coordination effort and assist in effective utilization of resources.
I will move on to recommendations.
Nations that progress always seek for areas to develop and improve. The following are some considerations for the committee.
One, examine modern digital service delivery. It will be beneficial to study and validate the standards, processes, and systems that were employed to assist in the settlement process for relevance in this modern changing landscape.
Two, undertake early intervention for success. If the ultimate goal of the settlement process is to ensure that newcomers are successful in integrating with society and start to positively contribute to its welfare, it is important that settlement be perceived and be looked at from the newcomers' perspective, and that is as an end-to-end process. While government may be organized into different levels and different ministries, it is essential that participating entities at all levels, including agency-sponsored groups, have access to information in a timely manner so that early engagement can happen.
Three, establish new partnerships. Governance in the digital age requires us to effectively partner with individuals, community organizations, and private sponsors. The journey over the last six-plus months is a testament to how this partnership, if formalized, can help build stronger communities more effectively and more efficiently.
Four, make language training accessible. Looking at alternative channels of providing language instruction as well as at other programming will provide better returns on investment. Virtual learning, self-paced learning, PowToons, non-verbal media, infographics, and the use of mobile technologies, which are prevalent regardless of the literacy of newcomers, should be explored.
Five, extend the support period for families—