Refugee explains how language is important in his new home country

by Ray Clancy on June 20, 2016

Moving to another country to live and work is an upheaval no matter your circumstances and refugees perhaps face the hardest time of all with language often being a barrier.

Leaving your family, home and friends is always heart breaking but Canada is trying to make the transition for those fleeing war and has been accepting a large number from Syria.

Some have been speaking about what it means. Safwan, his wife and three children lived in fear and panic for a year as bombs exploded around their home in Homs, Syria. Every day they had to risk their lives to get food from the few grocery markets still open in Homs.


And, Safwan barely escaped being shot while fleeing Syria to the relative safety of Lebanon. Fortunately, the Government of Canada accepted Safwan and his family in January 2016 as government assisted refugees.

“I didn’t know anything about Canada when I first arrived in Toronto. COSTI Immigrant Services, funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, gave me an overview of my new country, helped me find housing, get furniture and housing insurance, and took me and my family to the doctor,” he explained.

“I am thankful to the Government of Canada for getting me on my feet. And, the services COSTI provided were in Arabic. I was so happy that someone was speaking to me in my native language,” Safwan added.

Learning a new language is one issue that everyone who moves to a new country where their native language is not spoken can sympathise with. But language can also be a help.

One day, Safwan was shopping with a friend at Adonis Supermarket in Scarborough. The store manager, Hani Tawil, heard him speaking the Syrian Arabic dialect at the cash register and offered him a job on the spot.

Adonis Supermarket has an in-store bakery that produces fresh pita bread, as well as offering such Middle Eastern specialties as manakeesh, lahmajin, safiha and kibeh. It was a perfect fit because Safwan had worked as a baker in Syria.

Hani is a Syrian immigrant who wants to help refugees get their first job to build their lives in Canada. To date, he has hired almost 60 Syrian refugees.

Safwan started working at Adonis Supermarket in May 2016, and now makes fresh pitas daily. ëI feel more at ease now that I am working at Adonis with others who speak Arabic,í he explained.

Safwan came to Canada speaking no English. Working at Adonis Supermarket allows him to interact with co-workers and customers in his native language. Now that he has a job to support his family, Safwan’s next goal is to improve his English so that one day he can open his own business.


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