A Study of the Experiences of Integration and Settlement of Afghan Government-Assisted Refugees in Halifax, Canada

By Nourpanah, Shiva | Refuge, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

A Study of the Experiences of Integration and Settlement of Afghan Government-Assisted Refugees in Halifax, Canada


Nourpanah, Shiva, Refuge


Abstract

This article presents a qualitative study of the experiences of a sample of Afghan refugees who have settled in Canada. Using Anthony Giddens's concepts of structure and agency, the author analyzes interview data to explore how the respondents express their agency within the structural constraints of refugee life. In light of the research findings, it is argued that Afghan refugees form a diverse and heterogeneous population, in stark contrast to the essentialized and homogenous portrayals of silent, suffering victims of circumstance as found in popular media and policy discourse.

Resume

Cet article presente une etude qualitative des experiences dun echantillon de refugies afghans qui se sont installs au Canada. En utilisant les concepts de structure et d'agentivite dAnthony Giddens, Vauteur analyse les donnees de Ventrevue afin dexplorer lafacon dont les repondants expriment leur entremise dans les contraintes structurelles de la vie de refugie. A la lumiere des resultats de la recherche, on soutient que les refugies afghans forment une population diverse et heterogene, en contraste avec les representations essentialisees et homogenes d'eux comme muettes et soumises victimes des circonstances que Von trouve dans les medias populaires et le discours politique.

Introduction

Government-assisted refugees (GARs) are refugees who have been recognized by the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to meet the definition of refugee as set out in the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, and referred to a third country, such as Canada, for resettlement. After further screening by the immigration officials of the third country, these people are issued documentation allowing them to leave their country of asylum and enter the resettlement country as legal residents of that country. Upon arrival in the country of resettlement, they are met by state-funded service providers who provide them with a range of services designed to ease their settlement in their new country. Thus, Afghan GARs arrive in Canada as landed immigrants, they become permanent residents shortly after arrival, and, like any permanent residents who have migrated to Canada through other channels, may apply for and receive Canadian citizenship within the foreseeable future.

Afghan refugees have typically lived in other countries of asylum neighbouring their home country of Afghanistan for several years before their entry to Canada. (1) Iran and Pakistan remain the world's largest hosts to Afghan refugees, neither of which offer stable and secure legal and physical protection systems for the refuge population within their borders. (2) From a socio-cultural standpoint, Afghans share the same religion and language as the citizens of these host societies, and many are able to integrate within the labour market, albeit within the black market, and with no access to labour rights. (3)

The research question and fieldwork for this article arose out of a curiosity to study the settlement experiences of Afghan GARs in Halifax, a mid-sized city on the east coast of Canada, which does not have a sizeable immigration or diverse population such as found in larger Canadian cities. Halifax is the largest urban centre east of Quebec, part of the region known as Atlantic Canada, comprising four provinces with a problematic and thorny history of welcoming newcomers in their midst. (4) This research was undertaken to develop an understanding of the integration and settlement process of Afghan GARs living in this city, and the cultural and social challenges of their new society, intending to generate new knowledge of the effects of resettlement in the lives of refugees. Utilizing the concepts of agency and structure as pertaining to the experience of refuge and subsequent settlement, I ask, from a social and cultural standpoint, how Afghan government-assisted refugees adapt to life in Canada, where the culture, values, and lifestyle of the dominant majority are very different from that of their country of origin and the country of first asylum. …

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