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A Snapshot of Early Settlement Experiences: Connections to Healthy Communities.

Updated: Jun 3

By: Dr. Rana Telfah 

Rana Telfah completed her PhD in rural studies at the University of Guelph. Her research illuminates the resilience of Syrian families in the face of adversity, providing a deeper understanding of their early settlement experiences in Southwestern Ontario. Her work identifies their challenges and proposes policy options to expedite their integration into their new communities. After the Syrian conflict, thousands of refugees fled to neighbouring countries, while fewer travelled to different regions worldwide. Within Canada, 54,560 Syrian refugees were resettled by 2019 (Bose, 2020, p. 14), with Southwestern Ontario welcoming many of these refugees. Various researchers have highlighted different aspects of the experiences of Syrian refugee families in the Canadian context.

However, this research explores Syrian families' early settlement experiences in different communities in Southwestern Ontario, including housing, employment, health, and education. This research examines how Syrian families developed relationships with residents, sponsors, and neighbours. The study explains the experiences of Syrian families in learning English, the presence or absence of interpretation and local settlement services, access to transportation, access to Arabic schools, and access to cultural food. This research particularly examines whether there are differences in their experiences via different sponsorship types. Finally, the study delves into Syrian families' perception of safety and stability in their communities and whether they prefer to stay or leave their respective communities. Furthermore, this research looked at household and social reproduction, including the factors that influence social reproductive activities within Syrian reproduction, including the factors that influence social reproductive activities within Syrian households in different-sized communities and via different sponsorship types.

Research Question: How does gender analysis clarify Syrian families' challenges during early settlement in Southwestern Ontario?  

Rana Telfah, PhD, considered the research question in the latest Gateway Centre of Excellence in Rural Health (CERH) virtual lecture. On May 7th, 2024, for Season 4, Episode 10 of the virtual lecture series, Dr. Rana and an expert panel spoke about "A Snapshot of Early Settlement Experiences: Connections to Healthy Communities." Joining in this discussion as panelists are Dr. Ray Silvius. Associate Professor at the University of Winnipeg and Mark Nonkes, Local Immigration Partnership Manager, Huron County, and as moderator, Dr. Wayne Caldwell, Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph.

The Key Findings

  • The settlement experiences of Syrian families varied based on community size, with the unique dynamics of rural and small towns offering both positive support and recognition from residents and presenting challenges due to a lack of resources that meet the specific needs of this refugee population.

  • During early settlement, Syrian families shared that local people were respectful and helpful and had friendly and helpful neighbours. In RSTs and CA communities, the relationship between PSR and BVOR families and their sponsors was unique, friendly, and characterized by close ties.

  • During early settlement, Syrian families witnessed changes in gender roles and responsibilities. Syrian women predominantly cooked, cleaned the house, and provided childcare. Caring for children, especially babies and school-age children, presented challenges and required continuous attention and nurturing. In addition, only some Syrian women were responsible for household expenditures. Furthermore, they experienced a new life routine and made multiple trips outside the household; they dropped off their children at school, picked them up, and were responsible for school meetings and medical appointments.

  • During early settlement, Syrian families faced challenges accessing affordable-housing, employment, and healthcare services in different-sized communities. However, the sponsorship type played an essential role in alleviating some of the challenges that refugee families, mainly PSR and BVOR families, who moved to RSTs and CA communities enjoyed affordable rentals.

  • The study findings showed a common trend among Syrian men: the priority to join the labour market. However, they all faced barriers in entering the labour market.

  • Syrian families arrived with various health conditions; however, the size of the community impacted accessing a family doctor. It is essential to highlight that regardless of their sponsorship type or community size, women received health care that met their specific needs.

  • Resettlement is a subjective experience, and it is essential to recognize that the experiences of refugees settling in Canada are not homogenous; refugee experiences vary by the community they land in, their educational background, route of arrival, and access to services.


Based on the research, four key recommendations emerge:

  • There is a need for free interpretation services, access to English as an additional language schools, transportation, cultural food and government-funded programs to teach the Arabic language to school-age children and worship places in rural and small town and census agglomeration communities.

  • There is a need for health services providers to be well-equipped to diagnose their health condition, access Arabic-speaking practitioners, and address the long waiting times in accessing family doctors and emergency rooms.

  • There is a need to provide these families with affordable units that match family size. For instance, Syrian families' size ranged from 2-10 members per household, which should be reflected in the housing market.

  • Employment programs that improve Syrian men's language and skills in fields such as carpentry and welding and provide them with some income are needed.

Lecture Video

Further Information

The thesis can be accessed online at Rana Telfah graduated with a PhD in Rural Studies from the University of Guelph. Rana can be contacted at


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Gateway CERH. We believe in providing a platform for a diverse range of perspectives, and this article is intended to stimulate thoughtful discussion.  

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