Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Social Networks, Social Support and Social Capital of Syrian Refugees Privately Sponsored to Settle in Montreal: Indications for Employment and Housing during Their Early Experiences of Integration

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Social Networks, Social Support and Social Capital of Syrian Refugees Privately Sponsored to Settle in Montreal: Indications for Employment and Housing during Their Early Experiences of Integration

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It has long been documented in the literature that social networks have profound influence on the lives of refugees (Koser 1997). Such networks influence the decisions refugees make about when to leave their home countries and where to target as a destination for asylum (Koser and Pinkerton 2002). Once arrived in the destination country, social networks are key sources of information and advice about: acquiring refugee status (Lee and Brotman 2011); housing (Ives et al. 2014; Sherrell and ISSS 2009; Walsh et al. 2016); employment (Beaman 2011; Lamba 2008; Potocky-Tripodi 2004; Williams 2006); and healthcare (Campbell 2012; Szreter and Woolcock 2004;), among other things. On an emotional level, social networks are important in terms of refugee sense of wellbeing and health (Kingsbury 2017; McMichael and Manderson 2004). Finally, the type of social network one possesses --particularly whether one has bonding, bridging and/or linking contacts (Putnam 1995; Ryan et al. 2008)--can make a big difference in terms of the type of information, resources and support a person can access through their network.

For the more than 40,000 Syrian refugees sponsored to resettle in Canada since 2015, we can assume that their social networks--and the social capital that results--matter. Given the exceptional effort--state, community and individual--that went into the recent resettlement of Syrian refugees, there has been a high interest in documenting the experience. As the articles in this journal issue attest, much research has been undertaken with the newly arrived Syrian community. Here, we share the results of the first wave of survey data collected from the 626 privately-sponsored individuals living in Montreal as part of a larger, three-province, 4-year longitudinal study funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR 2017-2021). (1) Our aim is to offer a portrait of the type and quality of social networks possessed by recently arrived Syrian refugees. We explore to what extent these networks seem to be contributing to people's access to employment and housing, and also to their sense of belonging in their new communities and their sense of being welcomed to Canada. We have found that, in this early stage of Syrians' integration into Canadian society, there is strong evidence of bonding networks that are mobilized to find housing, employment and provide emotional support, but bridging and linking networks are in the early stages of development.

The article begins with a review of the literature related to social support, social networks and social capital in the lives of resettled refugees. We then contextualize our study, offering a description of the Quebec policy and practice context into which Syrian refugees are integrating and which provides the backdrop for the development of informal social networks, social support and social capital which are the focus of this article. We describe our methods before sharing our results, again along the same themes of social networks, social support, and social capital for the purposes of employment and housing. We conclude with a discussion of the relative strength of Syrians' access to bonding and bridging social capital, and considerations for service providers wanting to support Syrians' and other refugees' ability to strengthen such connections as their time in Canada goes on.

SOCIAL SUPPORT, SOCIAL NETWORKS AND SOCIAL CAPITAL: A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

In this current analysis, we draw on the literature surrounding the contribution of social support, social networks and social capital--or the lack of it--in the lives of migrants in general and, where possible, resettled refugees in particular. We begin by defining the concepts, before looking at the ways in which refugees' access to these resources affects their decisions around migration and, later, their experiences in terms of employment, housing and sense of belonging. …

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