Why some Syrian refugees decline Canada’s resettlement offer


Syrian refugee Omayma Al Kasem, 26, at the Jordanian Society for Human Development where she volunteers as a mental health aid worker in Jerash, Jordan Dec. 15, 2015. Ms. Al Kasem was a fourth-year law student before fleeing to Jordan. She rejected going to Canada because she doesn’t want to separate from family in Syria and Jordan, and because she wants to be a driving force in rebuilding Syria when the war is over.


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.

“Some families are still hoping to return home, others are concerned about their ability to integrate into another country – including learn the language,” said Aoife McDonnell, an external relations officer at the UNHCR refugee agency in Jordan.

When the UN called Ms. al-Kasem’s father, he put the decision to her, who, as the eldest of three sisters living at home, said she has to “think like a mom” after her own mother died. She knew instantly her answer was no.

In Jordan we are already separated from my two sisters who are in Syria. If we went to Canada we would have to leave my brother, his wife and their baby. I don’t want to separate my family any further,” Ms. al-Kasem told The Globe and Mail.

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?”

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