Integration Experiences of Syrian Youth in Canada

AN EXPLORATION OF INTEGRATION JOURNEYS AND WELL-BEING: A YPAR PROJECT WITH SYRIAN REFUGEE YOUTH uses a youth participatory action research (YPAR) process that engages Syrian youth as co-researchers to examine integration experiences. The proposed study sought to examine from the perspectives of Syrian refugee youth (ages 15 to 22) their integration experiences to better understand protective factors, as well as challenges and vulnerabilities, shaping well-being, identity, and belonging through a YPAR process. A socio-ecological framework was used to explore integration experiences and well-being within contexts of family and peer relationships, schooling and community belonging. Further, an intersectional lens is used to better understand diverse experiences of integration with respect to gender, age, class and pre-migration. The study design was a collaborative, community-based research process. The Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration MRCSSI works with Western University to recruit Syrian refugee youth (age 15-22) from the London area.

Key overarching research questions guided by the perspective of youth are:
• What protective factors and contexts of vulnerability shape the social integration experiences of Syrian refugee youth?
• And, how can supportive environments (community, school and home) be enhanced to strengthen protective factors and support refugee youth in experiencing increased resilience?

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Sample photos and meanings:

“The idea behind this video is to take the scene from the morning to the night. When I was coming back from school; I have noticed a narrow path. There were a lot of trees, the house! A lot of leaves falling. The scene was beautiful. I do not know what made me stop and take a video. It feels like it is a path to forget whatever sad and bad situations I went through. The falling leaves felt like saying let’s forget what happened and keep walking in this path. The leaves resemble us, and the nice breeze, Ahh. It felt saying nothing worth feeling this much pain. I felt it saying: let’s be as light as these flying leaves. This path for me seemed like if it was a time machine that makes you forget the past, the sad memories.”

“This is when we used to walk to the bus during winter. I have not seen snow in my life ever before we came to Canada. It snows in other parts of our country but not in my hometown where I used to live. It makes me feel happy that I finally see snow. You feel how winter feels like.”

Image retrieved from:

“My experience was like a door that has been opened for me. I had hoped to study, succeed in my life. The door symbolizes paths or ways for the things that I like to do in life. [the interviewer and participants commented on the side the door opens]. It is that I stand in front of the world. The whole world is forward. Look, there are trees, and it is green outside. There are things that give me the hope to keep going. I took this photo I was 16 years old.”

“This is the path that I walk step by step. It has no end because there is no end to things. Once I finish one thing, I start doing the other thing. There is always something in front. In this picture, there is this line, it is like a stumble or any other thing along the way that may shock you or stop you, but no, you will go back to your plan that you had for yourself. You may learn from it, and there is this small plant in between the tiles. While you are going through your journey, there are beautiful things. It makes you feel the joy of the experience during the tough times.”

“I link this picture not to the time when I arrive in Canada, but to the Canada Labour Code. You are not allowed to work if you are under 16 years old. This is one thing that I have encounter when I came to Canada, I was not able to work even though I was trying to find a job. So, I waited until I am 16 years old then I was able to legally find a job. I took this picture today during my work time. I like working. The Minimum legal age of employment in Canada should be lower than 16 years old because there are a lot of youth who are under 16 who need to work. They need to earn income anyway. This is one challenge that I have faced because I wanted to work but I could not. I was ready to work at age 12 years old. I needed to make my own money, this is my personality, I like to be independent, I like to move around, to go outside my home, to work, to be able to afford my needs without problem, without asking anyone for money. Also, working at a younger age will help me in the future. Gaining work experience, building my social network, getting to know more people, making connections, and experiencing new things every time will build me for the future. I do not think one should start working after graduation, no. working at a younger age will prepare you for the future. When you work more, you learn about life and about people. From my work, I am learning new skills related to the work itself (construction). I am not yet knowledgeable about how to open my own business in this field, but I am learning the in and out in this business. I am talking to new people every time because we are moving from one site to another, and this is how I am learning new things.”

“This picture depicts how I feel. When I took this picture, I didn’t know that it is a church, it is the one downtown. But then when I knew that this is a church, I loved it more because I like to be surrounded by different cultures.”

“This picture is close to my heart because it reminds me of the sky in my home country. In my country, the sky is clear. It does not snow or rain too much. So, in the evening, the sky shows lots of colours, very beautiful and fantastic colours. As if it was a panoramic scenery. When I took this picture, it was in a place where I did not want to go, but when I looked at the sky, it looked beautiful and positive. It gave me a sense of harmony.”

“In the first picture, you can see the sun is far away, and the road is in front of the photo. From my experience, I want to arrive at some destinations, but it was far away from me. I kept going until I arrived, and I was still away from the sun. we were going to the beach when I took this picture… So, this photo represents my way and the difficulties that I have experienced till I arrive at where I want.”

“This picture depicts the hope I have. I took this one when I first came here [Canada] in downtown. The road and the traffic lights mean a lot to me. There is an end to this road … but when I go home and look at this picture, I see the road and see the hope too. the traffic lights are obstacles, and it is going to turn red, but that does not mean you are going to stop all your life. Yes, it is an obstacle, but you are going to continue your life. There is no straight road without bumps. It is a long way, but I will arrive.”


We would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for funding this study, which is a sub-study of the primary project titled (Child and Youth Refugee Research Coalition) CYRRC.

We also thank the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration MRCSSI as a co-applicant and partner on this project for enhancing capacities for community-based and YPAR research.