Refugee Settlement and Acculturation in a Host Society

For countries such as Canada and Germany that have re-settled thousands of Syrian refugees over the past two years, the process of acculturation and settlement has been long, and in some cases difficult. How does a society include so many new arrivals over a short period of time? For refugees, issues such as language, social and gender roles, health care access, access to employment, training, schooling, housing, the loss of a familiar life, and the reception by the host society have challenged new arrivals in multiple different ways. Governments in both countries, along with citizens and other groups including churches, students, or neighborhood groups, have supported refugee resettlement. But the process has not been without its rough spots.

But the task of settlement is not necessarily easier for the host society, and both refugees and the host society must learn to adjust and adapt.  In Canada, a country which settled over40,000 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and January 2, 2017, the focus has turned to the so-called ‘13th month’. Syrian arrivals had 12 months of support from the government or private sponsors. But what happens after the 12th month? Was a year of support sufficient, especially given (as in Germany) language difficulties and learning about their host society? Would families be able to support themselves? The general sense is that there is progress toward independence, but that settlement is on-going.

In Germany, the settlement of over 1 million refugees challenged social systems. The arrival of Syrian refugees, and particularly concerns with personal safety following a series of violent events such as the New Year’s eve sexual assaults in the Cologne train station, has been linked to the growth of far-right, nationalistic political parties and increased tensions between Germans and refugees.  Still, there is progress.

Canada has not escaped concerns over the settlement process. Many Canadians feel have expressed concern about how much the new arrivals have been given, suggesting that ordinary Canadians were just as deserving (if not more so) of assistance. Although the political implications have not been as dramatic as in Germany, some Canadian politicians have called for additional “Canadian values” screening of refugees entering the country.

Two recent pieces illustrate the process, its difficulties, as well as its successes. The first illustrates acculturation in Germany:

and the second, acculturation into Canadian society at the 13th month:


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