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Canada: Innovative Ways of Identifying the Needs of Youth Refugees in Canada

09 Marzo 2017
Calgary Centre for Newcomers



The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is responsible for the resettlement and integration of refugees, while the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) seeks to meet the employment needs of those already arrived and those to come, including assessing the long-term implications of how Canada supports its most vulnerable newcomers in their integration.


Following an analysis of ESDC programs designed to support labour market integration of refugees, potential gaps were identified for those aged between 15 and 30. Given youths’ developmental stage of life, this particular group has a unique set of needs, distinct from other age groups. ESDC engaged the services of a consultant to look at existing supports and propose pilot projects for providing assistance to young refugees. 


Using ethnographic research techniques, the consultant engaged directly with young refugees, including those from Syria, as well as with direct service providers. Where possible and appropriate, visual methods like scenario sketching were used to gather data or draw out metaphors and themes for the interviews. This approach involves using pen and paper to sketch out a scenario like a typical day or an interaction. It allows participants to express in writing what feels important to them and represent it in any way possible. The interviewer has the opportunity to ask questions about the drawing and use it to guide the conversation and interview. This technique is useful for developing designs that often encompass a cognitive, emotional and social aspect to them, particularly in cases where participants might not possess sufficient language skills to express certain aspects of their experience or desires. Where individuals have low literacy levels, this method is particularly effective. In addition to this method, a simplified Grounded Theory approach to data was used seeking to reflect the representativeness of what was discussed and commonalities across different contexts.


Findings indicate that mental health issues, gaps in education, and employment challenges are widespread. Most refugees require intensive language training. Refugees are at high risk of social isolation, trauma and recovery issues. In addition to these challenges, many have experienced an interruption in their studies and have difficulty transitioning to the Canadian system. Those entering the labour market are concerned with having acquired skills and training acknowledged. Many refugees are also worried that their credentials will not be recognized by Canadian employers.


The transition for girls and women may be particularly difficult.  Girls and women often have to contend with shifts in cultural norms in terms of family roles and expectations as they integrate Canadian society. 


All of these factors are likely to influence participation and outcomes in employment programs. A collaborative, integrated care approach is critical for this young population. ESDC, in collaboration with other governmental departments, will pilot approaches informed by these findings beginning in the spring of 2017.


“I think this is the story of this country, that you get to come here and build a better future for yourself and for your neighbours than you could have anywhere else in the world

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau November 24, 2015