A Familiarization visit to Canada to learn about Refugee Resettlement programming: Montreal and Toronto

20 Jun A Familiarization visit to Canada to learn about Refugee Resettlement programming: Montreal and Toronto

A Familiarization visit to Canada to learn about Refugee Resettlement programming:  Montréal and Toronto.  In February 2017, three new refugee facilitators, Ms. Ola El Soueni and Ms. Hend Osman from COA Egypt, and Mr. Pablo Cevallos, from COA Ecuador, made the journey to Canada to meet and exchange information with refugee serving and community organizations, government officials, and local COA staff. The opportunity allowed them to experience the behind-the-scenes activities that go into facilitating the arrival and settlement of refugees and immigrants to Canada; thus, further enhancing all elements of the pre-arrival training sessions they conduct in COA Cairo.
Ms. Ola El Soueni reports on the familiarization visit:

Ola El Soueni

COA Refugee Facilitator

I was thrilled to find out I had the opportunity to travel to Canada to learn all about refugee resettlement. As excited as I was to go – just like the refugees we serve in COA Egypt – I was also anxious, and had my fair share of worries about the weather as the work trip was purposely scheduled in February – the coldest month of the year! Although I had previously travelled to countries with cold, snowy winters, I still feared Canada’s infamous white winters.

While still in Cairo, I found myself going shopping for winter clothes and accessories to be well-equipped, checking the Weather Channel around the clock, and googling photos of Montréal and Toronto in the winter. I instantaneously sympathized with refugees’ fears regarding Canada’s cold weather and profoundly understood their concerns about facing the harsh weather and carrying out daily activities. With my trip approaching, I could experience, just like the refugees we serve, the fear of the unknown. As COA facilitators, however, we are the ones at the forefront and it falls on us to alleviate those fears by bridging the known to the unknown.

During these busy few days in Canada, we were to familiarize ourselves with services refugees can access in Montréal and Toronto and to get acquainted with the processes that refugees go through following their landing in Canada.

Three new COA refugee facilitators were invited to complete the same familiarization trip, which took place from February 13-17, 2017. I would be joined by my colleague Hend Osman from IOM Cairo, and Pablo Cevallos from IOM Quito. We were also joined by colleagues from IOM Ottawa, Nader Kaddour and Paige Purcell, who were nothing but fantastic guides and resourceful company. The timing of the familiarization trip was brilliant, since it enabled us to get a glimpse of how Canadians deal with the winter season and a full appreciation of what needs to be done to stay warm.

From left to right:  Pablo Cevallos (COA Ecuador), Hend Osman (COA Egypt) and Ola El Soueni (COA Egypt)
From left to right: Pablo Cevallos (COA Ecuador), Hend Osman (COA Egypt) and Ola El Soueni (COA Egypt)

Speaking on behalf of all three of us, as new COA facilitators on the Canadian Orientation Abroad Program, I can fully say that this experience has enriched our knowledge regarding so many aspects of life in Canada. In turn, it has enabled us to accurately communicate this information to refugees, giving us a heightened credibility in the training room as we can now so easily address their fears with confidence. We have been there, done that, went to work and were out and about in the snow each day, which did not hinder us in any way from carrying out our daily activities.

Canadian winters are not as bad as they are thought to be, if you are well prepared and dressed up properly. It’s all about layering.” 

– Hend Osman

The familiarization trip covered two cities: Montréal, where we stayed for two days and Toronto, where we stayed for three. During our stay in Montréal, we met with a number of agencies, such as “Hay Doun”, which translates into “Armenian House”, an organization that provides 12 months of community and psychosocial services to Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs). We also visited Le Centre social d’aide aux immigrants (CSAI), which was originally founded by a religious congregation that supports Government Assisted Refugees (GARs).

During our stay in Montréal, we paid a very interesting visit to P.E.T International Airport, where we were introduced to the full range of arrival services provided by airport officials to ensure the smooth transition of refugees from the moment they land at the airport to the moment when they are met by their sponsors (for PSRs) or government officials (for GARs). The airport visit was amazing, since it helped us see and understand what goes on, behind the scenes at the airport, and the tremendous amount of work exerted by staff members, who work from noon until midnight to help refugees resettle in Canada. Among the services they provide is the provision of winter clothes and accessories so that refugees do not have the hassle of having to go around and shop for them.

What goes behind the scenes, in preparation for the arrival of refugees to Canada, is inspirational.  The way organizations work alongside different community service providers to make sure refugees feel safe and at home, from the moment they arrive, is the best example of the diligence and hard work the Canadian society is famous for.” 

– Hend Osman

Last, but not least, we had an appointment at the “Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion” (MIDI), which assists Government Assisted and Privately Sponsored Refugees coming to Québec and were briefed on the complete Reception Program that MIDI has in place for newcomers to Québec.

“I was quite surprised by the warmth of the Canadian people upon my arrival. I was able to easily talk with the immigration officers, who very kindly welcomed me to Canada and its extreme cold weather! At a first glance, one can tell that, in this city, visitors are warmly welcomed and even though Montréal’s official language is French, I never faced difficulties as an English-speaker.

– Pablo Cevallos

In Toronto, we kicked off our visit with a meeting at the “Arab Community Centre” (), an agency that has been helping refugees in Toronto for 45 years, with an outreach of about 4,000 clients. There are about 15 languages spoken at ACCT, which includes Arabic, English, Turkish, French, Oromo and many others due to the linguistic and cultural diversity of its staff members.

Our second visit was to COSTI Reception Centre, which receives over 1000 GARs per year. The centre has around 100 beds, where newcomers can stay up to 15 days until they find suitable housing. During their stay at COSTI, refugees are offered a wide array of services that help them integrate in the Canadian community. Just around the corner from COSTI, at “Access Alliance”, a healthcare provider, we had a very insightful meeting wherein we thoroughly discussed refugee access to health services. It is worth mentioning that they serve a diverse population of over 50 different nationalities.

On our last day in Toronto, we met with staff members from YMCA of Greater Toronto, which helps youth and adult refugees and immigrants settle and integrate in the Canadian society. Afterwards, we spent time at the “The Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture,” marking our last meeting of the trip. The centre was founded by a group of doctors, lawyers and social service providers, with the mandate to support victims of torture and of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The centre helps them heal from the traumas they have suffered so that they can integrate and lead a good life.

Besides what we learned and the interesting exposure we had, we were also lucky to learn from each other’s experiences and exchanged expertise on our respective training work in Ecuador and Egypt.

“Our interaction as refugee facilitators was very interesting and extremely helpful.  The  opportunity to share this trip with other colleagues from other sites (Ola and Hend), exchanging ideas, points of views and training techniques was totally enriching and positive.  Sharing information with fellow Canadian colleagues was also very rewarding, in the sense that this helped us a lot to understand some of the fundamental Canadian values, such as punctuality, communications and even their recommendations on how to properly dress for the weather. Needless to say, their recommendations, with regards to eating out were spot on, where we enjoyed Montréal’s delicious “Smoked Meat” and “Poutine” specialties, which I now know are some of Montréal’s most popular foods.”

 Pablo Cevallos

In a nutshell, seeing is believing! When you see, you know what to expect and how to best handle your clients and address their concerns. Our role as overseas facilitators is to try, as much as we can, to give refugees a glimpse of what life in Canada will be like and being part of this familiarization trip was a true eye-opener. Although the familiarization trip was relatively short, it was grand in terms of what we learned and benefited from. Walking-the-walk and talking-the-talk has definitely increased my confidence in the information I deliver and enabled me to completely comprehend what refugees go through when they come to Canada.