The National Post‘s Peter Kuitenbrouwer reports on the success and challenges of Syrian refugee resettlement.
Paramount Fine Foods sits in a big box plaza along a windswept street on the northwest fringe of Toronto. The new restaurant boasts a waterfall at its entrance. Children doff their shoes to play in an indoor climbing gym, while their parents enjoy Middle Eastern food — hummus and moutabbal (eggplant dip) decorated with pomegranate seeds; shawarma and tabouleh.
In the kitchen Ehssan Harba hefts a wooden paddle to pull manakeesh, a kind of pizza, and pitas puffed up like balloons from the wood-burning brick oven. Harba is 28, but with his thin frame and the haunted look in his dark eyes, looks closer to 40. And while he wins praise from his bosses, Harba, a refugee who arrived in Canada in July, can’t let go of Syria. When he sits down to talk about his life he starts to cry.
“I hope for all the universe for the Canadian government to help me to get my three brothers and my sister out of Syria, because I am still thinking about them,” he says.
Patrons of Paramount would never know it, but four of the kitchen staff are refugees from Syria. They found work here after Mohamad Fakih, founder of the Paramount chain, visited a Syrian refugee camp in his native Lebanon and vowed to hire 100 refugees.
It’s a big promise but small compared to the flood of refugee job-seekers. Canada expects to welcome 44,000 Syrian refugees by year-end, four times the total refugees in 2014. Ottawa pays the equivalent of welfare for each refugee for one year; then refugees without work land on provincial welfare rolls. For most jobs, refugees must learn English or French; refugee advocates across Canada report long waiting lists for language classes.