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Job fair plays matchmaker for Syrian refugees seeking work, old way of life

Representing 60 employers and more than 700 job positions in Prince Edward County, community development coordinator Trevor Crowe joined other employers Wednesday, taking resumés and exchanging information with Syrian refugees hoping to find work. Photo by Brendan Burke, QNet News.

By Brendan Burke [1]

BELLEVILLE – Ahmad Alkhalaf traveled from Kingston to Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre Wednesday in search of one thing – a job.

With past experience in agriculture, Ahmad Alkhalaf, a Syrian refugee who settled in Kingston last year, told QNet News he hoped to find a farming job during Wednesday’s event, but that he’s eager to work regardless of the sector. Photo by Brendan Burke, QNet News.

“I like to work with people and I am a hard worker.”

Alkhalaf was one of dozens of recently settled Syrian refugees from Napanee, Kingston and the Greater Toronto Area who brought their resumés – and hopes – to a job fair hosted by Quinte Immigration Services [2]. The Red Cross [3]-funded event saw regional agricultural employers accept credentials, with the help of interpreters, from bused-in would-be workers in a bid to connect newcomers with potential jobs.

Its agricultural focus, according to Quinte Immigration Services executive director Orlando Ferro, was a response to the skills already possessed by many of the refugees.

“A lot of them already have a farming background and they want to go back to that.”

Going back to that – regaining independence and a sense of normalcy after fleeing their war-torn homeland – is made all the more urgent now that support services have run out for most refugees who’ve lived in Canada for over a year.

“They don’t want to be on a handout, they don’t want to be on assistance forever,” Ferro said.

Ferro added that the day-long event married this need for employment with a demand for labour in agriculture.

“They have labour shortages, but also know that this is a good labour pool – reliable, hard working people and they understand that it’s really…a benefit for them as well as for the refugees.”

Oliver Haan of Haanover View Farms in Marysville [4], one of several farms offering work at the job fair, said he recognized the mutual benefit of a partnership between skilled refugees and area employers like himself.

Here’s people that bring skills, they bring work ethic, they’re trying to re-establish themselves in a new country after everything they’ve been through and I mean why not? Oliver Haan, Haanover Views Farms

“This makes sense. Here’s people that bring skills, they bring work ethic, they’re trying to re-establish themselves in a new country after everything they’ve been through and I mean why not? There’s a fit here because agriculture is struggling to find help.” 

The wineries represented Wednesday were no exception. Hillier Creek Estates [5] owner Kemp Stewart told QNet News he aimed to hire as many as four refugees over the course of the day. As a “culturally aware” world traveler, Stewart said he understands how important communication for newcomers integrating in Canada is. So he offered attendees more than employment.

“In addition to helping start an employment dossier, we can spend an hour a day learning to speak English. That’s just a motivation I personally have,” Stewart said.

While interpreters and translators help, language barriers continue to pose challenges for refugees looking for work according to Prince Edward County’s community development coordinator Trevor Crowe.

“If you don’t speak English it’s going to be difficult unless you hire a translator, which, there isn’t funding available for translators.”

Crowe, who represented 60 employers and over 700 job positions available in the County, added that job sites could be difficult to reach for hires currently living outside of the Quinte area.

“The other issue is transportation, getting people to their work is going to be a problem as well so I think longer term it’s going to require support from either government or MPs to get funding for translation and transportation.”

Quinte Immigration Services executive director Orlando Ferro said the Quinte region’s vibrant community and affordable cost of living make the area a good fit for refugees looking for employment. Photo by Brendan Burke, QNet News

Orlando Ferro addressed some of these logistics concerns during a speech later relayed in Arabic, assuring attendees that resettlement support will be offered should a refugee enter an employment contract.

With many of the attendees currently living in cities such as a Hamilton, Ferro emphasized that the Quinte area’s comparably low cost of living makes resettlement for work an attractive and viable option.

Ferro reminded guests at Wednesday’s job fair that not everyone would walk away with a job, but that the relationships forged during the event, coupled with an interest shown by sectors outside of agriculture, including manufacturing, in hiring newcomers, bodes well for refugees seeking a pathway to employment –and their old way of life.

As part of the Quinte Immigration Services’ effort to familiarize job seekers with the area, a Prince Edward County-focused tour – providing refugees the opportunity to get on-farm experience – will be held in May.

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