This December represents a key milestone for many Syrian refugees living in Canada. It will now be three years since the earliest refugees first came to this country, looking to escape a brutal war and to rebuild their lives.
And after three years of permanent residence here, newcomers are legally allowed to apply for Canadian citizenship.
Of course, it's not as easy as simply saying, "Yes, please." Candidates must show that they have a job and that they have filed their taxes. They have to pass language and historical tests. And there are also fees in the hundreds of dollars that they must pay just to get the application going.
So what forces drove them here in the first place? Where else have they settled? Are any refugees considering returning to their homeland? Now is as good a time as any to answer these questions!
The Syrian Civil War
In 2011, conflicts between the Syrian government and three different anti-government armed groups led to the Syrian Civil War. By 2013, major cities such as Aleppo were being torn apart. In August 2014, the UN was calling it the "biggest humanitarian emergency of our era."
All this time, refugees—people fleeing conflict and violence in their homeland—were streaming out of their country in search of safety. At first, many fled to the countries closest to Syria, such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Over time though, Syrians looked to other countries to make new lives, such as Germany, Hungary, or Egypt.
And then in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau began the Syrian Initiative to open Canada's doors to these people as well.
A lofty goal
In December 2015, the first Syrian refugees began arriving in Canada. Eventually, 58,600 refugees would become new residents. Though the process of getting thousands of people to a new home halfway across the world might seem difficult enough, the truth that this is just one small part of the process.
Once in Canada, refugees had an entirely new culture to adapt to—not to mention the weather (Syria is much warmer!). The Canadian government provided money for the first year, and also offered courses to help with the language and culture barriers. But ultimately, the refugees have been responsible for their own future here.
That's why many Syrian refugees have been preparing for this moment from the second they arrived in Canada. The application for citizenship is a very important and difficult test.
Measure of success
Syrian refugees don't necessarily need to settle here. After years of civil war, the conflict in Syria appears to be ending. The UN estimates that around 250,000 people will attempt to move back to their homeland in 2019.
But considering that there are around 6 million Syrian refugees globally, it seems that most of them are staying where they are for now. How many of the ones currently in Canada will successfully stay? People behind the Syrian Initiative are hopeful that the number will be quite high.
According to Mathieu Genest, the spokesperson for Canada's Immigration Minister, "While the integration process takes time, it is ultimately successful for refugees and benefits Canada. As with previous refugee arrivals, we expect the majority of Syrian refugees will ultimately succeed in our labour market and society."
In other words, becoming a Canadian citizen may not be a fast process, but completing the journey is part of what makes Canada the kind of country that it is. A land full of cultures from every corner of the world.