Omayma al-Kasem is bold, forthright and speaks clearly and with confidence. She has completed four years of law school and volunteers as a mental-health worker with a Jordanian charity, and as such, is exactly the kind of Syrian refugee Canada wants to welcome. The trouble is, Ms. al-Kasem isn’t interested in coming.
The 26-year-old from Daraa, Syria, is one of a sizable number of Syrians turning down the chance to become permanent residents of Canada. According to UN figures, just three out of every 10 households contacted about resettlement in Canada go on to relocate.
Cultural reasons played another role. Although Ms. al-Kasem said she does not feel safe in Jordan and described refugee life as “the lowest level of hell,” she said she feared she wouldn’t be comfortable in Canada.
“Even in the move from Syria to Jordan, we lost some connection to our religion. If we go to Canada, how can I raise my little sisters in a language and culture I don’t understand?”
In Ajloun, a hilly town in northern Jordan, Emad al-Khlef, a father of four from Homs, turned down a spot in Canada. Barely literate, he feared he wouldn’t be able to learn enough English to support his family.
He believed his 20-year-old son, Mohammad, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by security forces in 2011, had no future anywhere: No paralyzed young man could find work or marry, he said.
Mohammad, watching his father with bright, intelligent eyes, had already started learning English and researching life in Canada before his father made the decision. He believed that in Canada he stood a chance of achieving his dreams of a university degree, marriage, fatherhood and a career – all things that have thus far eluded him. But his father’s decision was final.
“We are afraid of the unknown,” said Mr. al-Khlef. If the family went to Canada, he reasoned, they’d lose their UN food aid and cash assistance worth about $290 each month. The poverty and isolation he knew was preferable to the unknown elsewhere.
Other families from comparable socio-economic backgrounds said they had similar reasons for saying no. Omar Shahadeh, an illiterate construction worker living in Jerash, said it was “better to be among Arabs like us” than to wade into a new and uncertain culture. He said his decision was reinforced by the opinions of friends who doubted Canada’s commitment to the resettled refugees.
“People said the government of Canada would only care for us for one month, and then they would leave us. Lots of people are refusing for this reason,” said Mr. Shahadeh.