McLaughlin College a community partner for Human Rights Watch Canada Film Festival  

film clapper

McLaughlin College is one of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival (HRWFF) community partners. The festival will hold screenings of five documentaries and will take place at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema from May 26 to 29.  

The five documentaries are:  

The Klabona Keepers 
The Klabona Keepers is an intimate portrait of the dynamic Indigenous community that succeeded in protecting the remote Sacred Headwaters, known as the Klabona, in northwest British Columbia from industrial activities. 
Tamo Campos, a York University master’s of environmental studies student, is the documentary director. 

March For Dignity  
This film follows a small group of brave LGBTI+ activists in Tbilisi, Georgia, as they attempt to conduct the first Pride march in the country, where homosexuality remains highly stigmatized.  

Mujer de Soldado (Soldier’s Woman) 
Mujer de Soldado is a deeply moving picture of female solidarity that finally provides space for the dignity of women’s experiences that has long been denied. 

Tacheles -The Heart of the Matter 
Three generations removed from the Holocaust, Yaar is a young Jewish Berliner desperate to leave the past behind. 

The Last Shelter 
Deep in Mali, in West Africa on the edge of the Sahel Desert, lies the peaceful city of Gao – a quiet way station for passersby with their eyes set on Europe in hopes of finding opportunity, safety and a better future. The Last Shelter is an emotional portrait of this town and the generous people who live in it. 

Human Rights Watch Film Festival logo

All five documentaries will be made available for digital viewing from May 30 to June 2. Each of these films addresses some of the most pressing human rights issues from across the globe. 

“Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s most recognized and respected human rights protection agencies and its annual film festival features award-winning documentaries that illustrate the human rights struggles that people are forced to confront daily. They are not only revealing, insightful but, above all, educative,” says Head of McLaughlin College James C. Simeon. “McLaughlin College is proud to be one of the many Community Partners for this year’s Human Rights Film Festival.” 

For more than 40 years, Human Rights Watch has defended people at risk of abuse by investigating abuses scrupulously, exposing the facts widely, and relentlessly pressing those in power for change that respects people’s rights. Their researchers examine situations in 90 countries around the world, functioning as investigators, journalists and advocates. 

Recently marking its 30th anniversary and currently screening films in more than 20 cities around the world, HRWFF bears witness to human rights violations in direct storytelling and exposé form. They create a forum for courageous individuals on both sides of the lens to empower audiences with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a difference. Tickets for the film festival are free of charge and can be reserved here. For more information, visit the Human Rights Watch website.  

Professor Emerita receives Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award  

young woman reads a book

Borderless Higher Education for Refugees: Lessons from the Dadaab Refugee Camps, co-edited by Professor Emerita and Senior Scholar Wenona Giles at York University’s Department of Anthropology, earned the Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award from the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).  

Wenona Giles headshot
Wenona Giles

Giles, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Resident Research Associate at the Centre for Refugee Studies at the University, accepted the award at a virtual awards ceremony alongside her co-editor Lorrie Miller, associate director for the Institute for Veterans Education and Transition in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. 

The Jackie Kirk Award is an annual award that recognizes a published book reflecting one or some of the varied areas of expertise represented in Kirk’s areas of commitment, primarily gender and education and/or education in conflict (fragile states, post-conflict, peace education). Kirk was also committed to working on identity (particularly of girls and teachers), globalization as a context for local practice, and visual participatory research methodologies. 

Book cover for Borderless Higher Education for Refugees: Lessons from the Dadaab Refugee Camps
Book cover

“On behalf of all the chapter contributors, we are honoured and excited to receive the Jackie Kirk Award for the book Borderless Higher Education for Refugees: Lessons from the Dadaab Refugee Camps. I didn’t know Dr. Kirk although I do feel an intellectual kinship with her and the goals she strove to achieve and the life she lived to achieve them,” said Giles. 

During the ceremony, Giles also read an excerpt from the book. “The refugee camp as a university campus – that was the dream. This book tells the story of university partners in Canada and Kenya who collaborated in the development and delivery of tuition-free academic programs for refugees living in two of the largest refugee camps in the world, Dadaab and Kakuma. Was the endeavour successful? Was it worthwhile? And if so, for whom?” 

The book describes how higher education is increasingly recognized as crucial for the livelihoods of refugees and displaced populations caught in emergencies and protracted crises to enable them to engage in a contemporary, knowledge-based, global society. It tells the story of the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project which delivers tuition-free university degree programs into two of the largest protracted refugee camps in the world, Dadaab and Kakuma in Kenya. Combining a human rights approach, critical humanitarianism and concern with gender relations and intersecting inequalities, the book proposes that higher education can provide refugees with the possibility of staying put or returning home with dignity. Written by academics based in Canada, Kenya, Somalia and the U.S., as well as NGO workers and students from the camps, the book demonstrates how north-south and south-south collaborations are possible and productive.  

The award funds, along with all book royalties, have been contributed to the support of university students in refugee camps in Kenya. 

BHER is a York-based project now hosted by the Faculty of Education. BHER works to provide accredited university programs to working, untrained refugees and local teachers where they are. The project focuses on education for refugees caught in extended exile in the global south for more than 15 years, living in an underserved region where resources and support for learning are scarce. 

For more information about the book, visit the Bloomsbury Publishing website

Anthropology Professor Zulfikar Hirji featured in opera-film ‘BOUND’  

Against the Grain Theatre announces new Opera-Film 'BOUND'

Aiming to use the power of storytelling and music to address the many barriers Canadian newcomers and marginalized people face in their daily lives, the film questions “How welcoming are we as a country, as a city, as a community?”  

BOUND’s libretto is written by AtG’s Founding Artistic Director Joel Ivany, whose lyrics explore social issues interwoven with the stories told by Hirji, Dr. Nadiya Vasdani, Cindy Rivers and Raina Younes who reflect on the challenging and different journeys they have endured to find their place and voice in Canada. Ivany is joined by Reneltta Arluk, director of Indigenous Arts, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity as co-director. 

BOUND features four stories told by Zulfikar Hirji, Raina Younes, Dr. Nadiya Vasdani and Cindy Rivers.
BOUND features four stories told by Zulfikar Hirji, Raina Younes, Dr. Nadiya Vasdani and Cindy Rivers

Hirji immigrated to Canada from Uganda in the 1970s as a political refugee only to face the barriers of racism in his new homeland. This is the first time Hirji has shared his personal story with a large audience. 

“A traumatic experience can’t necessarily be expressed in words,” he says. “There is a gap in research literature on how marginalized populations come to Canada and deal with the aftermath of their arrival, and I am at the age now to think it through and find the vocabulary to finally talk about it which I couldn’t do in the past. Watching what is happening in Canada today and seeing things we need to tackle as society and nation… I am in a place to give a voice and something someone who is just arriving might not be able to do. By providing language, vocabulary, the words, maybe others can find comfort that they are not alone.”  

In the film, Hirji recalls being reminded by others at a young age that he was different or did not “fit in” because of his religious beliefs, traditions and life values. Facing aggression, violence and self-doubt, Hirji notes his story is similar to those who have also faced hardship because of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality and yet stories are unheard because they are not included or shared in Canadian studies and history curriculum or openly shared by those who have endured similar hardship along their journey. 

Scene from the opera-film BOUND. This is the first time Professor Zulfikar Hirji (pictured above) has shared his personal story with a large audience. 
Scene from the opera-film BOUND. This is the first time Professor Zulfikar Hirji (pictured above) has shared his personal story with a large audience 

In the film Hirji expresses, “when we came to Canada in 1972, I don’t think there was a vocabulary that we have today to speak about identity. Especially because I grew up in a small suburb in Vancouver, it was a pretty white place and I only realized that once someone started identifying me as not white, and that sort of identity became so fixed in my mind that I didn’t look like people around me at school and I didn’t speak the same languages and so I think all of the sudden you realize that you’re quite significantly different from the people around you and you have a different way of seeing the world than they do and I think that’s when you’re starting to question what your identity is.”  

Telling these stories in the form of an opera-film provides an opportunity to reach an audience that may not particularly be speaking about these issues as traditional storytelling has been more commonly used in the past. Hirji collaborated with AtG over the past six years, sharing his research expertise as an anthropologist and social historian to assist the creative process. “I was actually quite surprised when they asked if I would tell my own story on screen,” he said. Hirji also mentions he uses the arts extensively in his anthropology courses throughout the years to help student explore complex social and cultural issues and consider new modalities through which to conduct, communicate and disseminate ethnographically grounded research. 

“If we are going to make any impact, through research we have to be aware of ways in which people are absorbing information today and take it into consideration,” notes Hirji. “I intend to use BOUND in my graduate course in September and invite AtG to workshop ‘ethnographic-opera,’ an exciting new form of ethnography. If we want research to have longevity, we need to be aware of how we use new modalities to share our stories as they have resonance and are here to stay by experimenting and finding opportunities that are also respectful to academic research standards.”   

Hirji also carries a musical background as a trained classical musician for 18 years. Tuned into AtG’s thinking, creativity and insight into questions related to Canada’s inclusivity, he expresses admiration for the artists who are using music to magnify sensory experience and emotions  that cannot easily be conveyed through text alone.  

Storyteller Zulfikar Hirji (left) and Baritone, John Welsh (right). Scene from the opera-film BOUND.
Storyteller Zulfikar Hirji (left) and Baritone, John Welsh (right). Scene from the opera-film BOUND

BOUND composer Kevin Lau takes inspiration from George Frideric Handel’s music to create a score for the BOUND film anchored with assurance by the mighty sounds of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nathan Brock to mirror the transformation of the four storytellers featured in the film. 

The stories find life in song form through the singing of Juno-nominated soprano Miriam Khalil, tenor Andrew Haji, baritone Justin Welsh, and American trans woman and lyric soprano Breanna Sinclairé, who makes her Against the Grain Theatre and Canadian debut. 

While the film is connected through themes of alienation, adaptation and transformation, it also offers a unique perspective of resilience, strength and hope, challenging Canada’s narrative as a welcoming nation that celebrates diversity.  

Hirji notes that the University’s efforts in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion, also provides an opportunity for community support, which is more visible today than it was 15 years ago when he first arrived at York.  

“I think now, we are in a place in the university setting, perhaps even nationally, to be able to voice these complex realities, and these factors that led me to talk about my personal story,” says Hirji.  

BOUND will be streaming until April 24 and is free of charge. Registration is required.  

Photos by Against the Grain Theatre‘s Dylan Toombs

Anthropology Annual Lecture explores the migrant crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border

US Mexico border

The Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) presents this year’s Anthropology Annual Lecture on March 17 at 4:30 p.m. with anthropologist and academic Jason De León. 

Photo of Jason De León
Jason De León

Serving as the keynote speaker for the event, De León will discuss “The Land of Open Graves: Understanding the Current Politics of Migrant Life and Death along the U.S.-Mexico Border.” 

De León is a professor of anthropology and Chicana/o and Central American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He serves as executive director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a research-arts-education collective that seeks to document and raise awareness about the experiences of clandestine migrants. De León is also president of the board of directors for the Colibri Center for Human Rights, a non-profit that seeks to identify and repatriate the remains of people who have died while migrating through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. He is also the author of the award-winning book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail and is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow. 

In this presentation, De León will focus on what happens to the bodies of migrants who die in the desert. He argues the way bodies decompose in this environment is a form of hidden political violence that has deep ideological roots and demonstrates how the post-mortem destruction of migrant corpses creates devastating forms of long-lasting trauma. 

“We are excited to welcome Professor Jason De León as he shares his expertise on the experiences of migrants and the complex processes that occur after their untimely deaths. De León is a pathbreaking anthropologist whose research has had a transformative effect on the discipline and whose public-facing works continue to make a positive impact,” says Othon Alexandrakis, Department of Anthropology Chair and associate professor, LA&PS. 

This event is co-sponsored by Founders College and the Centre for Refugee Studies. The annual lecture is a leading event for the Department of Anthropology. The yearly address provides faculty, staff and students with a unique opportunity to meet eminent leaders in the field. 

All members of the York University community are welcome to attend this event. Registration is required. For more information on De León’s keynote speech, visit the Anthropology Annual Lecture Series webpage. 

Attend final event of this year’s BHER Speaker Series 

2021-2022 BHER Speaker Series

York University’s Faculty of Education, Centre for Refugee Studies and the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project will be hosting the final event of the 2021-22 BHER Speaker Series on Wednesday, March 16 at 9 a.m.

The event, “Higher Education in Comparative Perspective: Opportunities and Challenges” will explore the global access to post-secondary education and how it has expanded significantly over the past two decades. It will also highlight international higher education becoming an increasingly connected and competitive sector.  

Poster for the BHER event, material in the story duplicates the poster text
2021-2022 BHER Speaker Series March 16 event poster

This BHER Speaker Series event will welcome a panel of academic administrators and higher education experts involved in a range of internationalization efforts. They will discuss the opportunities and challenges to expanding higher educational access across borders and consider the possibilities for, and constraints to transnational higher education partnership. They will also bring attention to how public and private universities have become spaces for transnational engagement and despite the global growth in post-secondary enrolment, how there remain to be significant disparities in who can access higher education within and across national borders. 

The panel includes Samson Madera Nashon, head of the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia (UBC); Donald Kisilu Kombo, an associate professor and dean at the School of Education at Kenyatta University; Fouzia Warsame, deputy chief of party – policy, curriculum and government liaison for the Bar ama Baro program at Creative Associates International; and Kerry Bystrom, an associate dean, and associate professor of English and human rights at Bard College Berlin. 

Moderators of the event are Philemon Misoy, project liaison officer at BHER, and Rachel Silver, assistant professor at the Faculty of Education. 

This event is a part of the BHER Speaker Series 2021-22 Reciprocal Learning Beyond Crisis. The BHER Speaker Series remains the first of its kind hosted at the Faculty of Education that equally features experts from York University and from institutions that are comprised of or work with refugees. 

To learn more about the panellists and join the virtual event, click here.    

BHER Speaker Series hosts film screening and panel discussion on Feb. 16

Participants in York University's Borderless Higher Education for Refugees Project in Dadaab, Kenya

York University’s Faculty of Education, Centre for Refugee Studies and the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) Project will be hosting the “Together for Peace in Somalia Film Screening and Rebuilding Somalia Panel” event on Feb. 16 at 9 a.m. 

“Together for Peace in Somalia Film Screening and Rebuilding Somalia Panel” event poster

The event will begin with a screening of the short film Together for Peace by Diirad Films, followed by a panel discussion with York University alumna Hawa Sabriye, who works with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in Mogadishu, Somalia, and as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer; Maryan Noor Madobe, a former BHER beneficiary who graduated from Kenyatta University and works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in protection field; as well as Jama Ahmed Mohamed who came to the Dadaab refugee camps in 1991 and finished his post-secondary education from the BHER program. He is currently working as an English language lecture teacher as well as an academic chairperson for the English department at Puntland University State in Garowe, Somalia.  

The panellists will reflect on the documentary and discuss their work within and outside of the education sector. They will focus on the opportunities and challenges of creating a new Somalia while moving away from mainstream media narratives outside of Somalia that frame the country in terms of conflict, crisis and chaos. The panel will move beyond myopic representations to explore the varied stories of teachers, activists and others working to rebuild Somalia and enact a peaceful future in the Horn of Africa.  

This event is a part of the BHER Speaker Series 2021-2022 Reciprocal Learning Beyond Crisis. The BHER Speaker Series remains the first of its kind hosted at the Faculty of Education that equally features experts from York University and from institutions that are comprised of or work with refugees.  

To learn more about the panellists and join the virtual event, click here.  

McLaughlin College commemorates Human Rights Day

two people linking their pinky fingers

Since its inception in 1948, Human Rights Day is observed every year on Dec. 10 – the day the adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This year’s Human Rights Day theme is “EQUALITY— Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights.”

On Dec. 10 at 12:30 p.m., James C. Simeon, head of McLaughlin College and associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, will lead the panel discussion, “International Human Rights Day Commemoration,” alongside a team of expert panelists, including:

Simone Bohn
Simone Bohn is an associate professor with York’s Department of Politics. Bohn’s research focuses on political parties in South America, gender and politics in Brazil, and the study of political tolerance and attitudes towards corruption in Latin America. She is the co-editor of Mothers in Public and Political Life and Twenty-First-Century Feminismos: Women’s Movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Kathryn Wyatt-Cottingham
Kathryn Wyatt-Cottingham is a member of the executive committee for Human Rights Watch (HRW) Canada, co-chair for international justice, and former co-chair of advocacy. Wyatt-Cottingham holds a BA in international relations and has completed several executive management courses at McGill University and American Express’ International Senior Management Training Program. Through her work at HRW, she has visited the Criminal Court in The Hague, as well as Hungary and Serbia, to meet refugees trying to get into the European Union.

Russel W. Zinn
Justice Russel Zinn was appointed to the Federal Court on Feb. 20, 2008, and to the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada on Nov. 20, 2008. He received a master of arts in philosophy from Carleton University in 1976 and a bachelor of laws from the University of Ottawa in 1980. He is the author of The Law of Human Rights in CanadaPractice and Procedure published by Thomson Reuters. In 2014, Zinn was elected to serve on the Governing Council of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (IARMJ) and is chair of its Americas Chapter.

The United Nations (UN) recognizes the “principles of equality and non-discrimination are at the heart of human rights. Equality is aligned with the 2030 Agenda and with the UN approach set out in the document Shared Framework on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart of Sustainable Development. This includes addressing and finding solutions for deep-rooted forms of discrimination that have affected the most vulnerable people in societies, including women and girls, Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, LGBTI people, migrants and people with disabilities, among others.”

To register for the panel discussion, click here.

McLaughlin’s International Lecture to explore refugee cases before international courts

Refugee mother and child in Idomeni

On Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 12:30 p.m., Hilkka C. Becker, chairperson of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, will join the McLaughlin College International Lecture to virtually present, “The UNHCR and the Enforcement of Refugee Protection before International Courts: Amicus and Third-Party Submissions before the ECtHR.”

Hikka C. Becker
Hilkka C. Becker

The lecture, hosted by the Office of the College Head and Human Rights Watch (HRW), will outline the potential wider application of the UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) amicus role in refugee cases before international courts. Using the jurisprudence of the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights), as the prime example, the discussion will explore the impact of the UNHCR’s interventions on the evolution and development of international refugee law in Europe and conclude with the assessment of the use of strategic litigation by the UNHCR in fulfilling its supervisory role in the advancement of refugee protection.

Becker has served as the chairperson of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal since April 2017. Previously, she was a deputy chairperson of the tribunal and served as a part-time Member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal from 2013 to 2016.  Becker is a lawyer with over 20 years professional experience specializing in asylum, migration and human rights law. She holds an advanced diploma in Data Protection Law from The Honorable Society of King’s Inns and a post-graduate diploma in Employment Law from University College Dublin. Since 1998, Becker is registered to practise in Germany and is a practising solicitor in Ireland since 2003. She has acted in immigration, EU free movement, refugee and citizenship law before the superior courts in Ireland as well as before the ECtHR and the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

To register for the event, click here.

Deborah E. Anker to deliver McLaughlin College’s Annual Public Policy Lecture

Woman's hand

McLaughlin College at York University will host its Annual Public Policy Lecture, presented by Professor Deborah E. Anker, on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

Deborah E. Anker
Deborah E. Anker

Anker, a clinical professor of law and the founder of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC), will deliver the talk, “The Development of American Gender Asylum Law; Cross Border Collaboration Between U.S. and Canadian NGOs.”

Anker’s lecture will highlight the development of the body of the gender asylum law, or asylum claims of women subject to persecution over the past two decades and the influence of the international women’s human rights movement, which highlighted violence against women as a human rights issue. Anker will also discuss the urge for Canada to take leadership and reclaim its legacy after establishing a human rights framework for interpreting refugee law and issuing the first guidelines for adjudication of gender asylum claims in the 1990s.

Anker is one of the most widely known asylum practitioners, teachers and scholars in the U.S. and a pioneer in the development of clinical legal education in the immigration field, training students in direct representation of refugees and creating a foundation for clinics at law schools around the U.S. Author of the leading and annually updated treatise, Law of Asylum in the United States, Anker has co-drafted groundbreaking Gender Asylum Guidelines and amicus curiae briefs. Her historical work on U.S. ratification and implementation of the UN Refugee Convention in The Forty Year Crisis: A Legislative History of the Refugee Act of 1980,” is a classic that has shaped the interpretation of U.S. asylum law, especially in an internationalist direction.

Learn more about Anker and register for this event here.

Research on Syrian refugees and depression tells powerful story of letdowns, could spur change

Kos, Greece - October 10, 2015: Syrian refugee and her child at a volunteer's camp

Health Professor Farah Ahmad is dedicated to serving the most marginalized and vulnerable with a focus on primary care settings and psychosocial health. She recently examined data collected for the Syrian Refugee Integration and Long-term Health Outcomes in Canada study (SyRIA.lth) for the mental health of 1,924 Syrian refugees settled in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

The research team, which included York Health Professor Michaela Hynie, who is also a resident faculty member at York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, researchers from the Wellesley Institute, and several universities and settlement agencies across Canada, discovered something intriguing. They found the rates of depression among the refugees were much lower than those found in other Syrian refugee populations – not surprising, given that unlike refugees in many other settings, resettled refugees in Canada have achieved permanent residency and access to employment, health care and safe housing. What was surprising, however, was the significant and worrisome increase in depression experienced by the refugees after two years of their relocation in this new country.

Researchers found that Syrian refugees two years after arrival in Canada experienced depression at higher rates than in the first year after they had arrived in the country
Researchers found that Syrian refugees two years after arrival in Canada experienced depression at higher rates than in the first year after they had arrived in the country

“This really deserves our attention,” Ahmad urges. “If we could identify predictors of mental health struggles and intervene pre-emptively, this could get people the help they need. Programs that promote a stronger sense of social support and control and strengthen language fluency could be effective in reducing depression.”

Farah Ahmad
Farah Ahmad

This new knowledge could advance refugee integration through policy and program modifications.

The research, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, was published in the Journal of Mental Health (2020).

Resettlement barriers can aggravate previous trauma

The Syrian civil war, an ongoing combat and humanitarian crisis that began in 2011, forced millions of people to flee their homes in search of safety. By May 2019, 5.6 million of these refugees had fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2019). Thousands had taken refuge in western countries as well.

In November 2015, the Government of Canada launched “Operation Syrian Refugees” and, in three months, the country had welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees. This commitment was subsequently expanded to include 25,000 Syrian Government Assisted Refugees and Blended Visa Office Referred Refugees in 2016, as well as additional Privately Sponsored Refugees (Syrian Outcomes Report, June 2019). All told, Canada resettled over 74,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

Refugees, fleeing their homeland and fearing for their lives, experience lasting trauma that often requires specialized care. This trauma comes from harrowing events that most of us never experience – such as the destruction of family homes, loss of loved ones, torture, rape and more.

All of this underscores the importance of Ahmad’s research.

Refugees experienced lasting trauma that often requires specialized care. Here, a Syrian refugee comforts her child at a volunteer's camp in Kos, Greece on October 10, 2015.
Refugees experienced lasting trauma that often requires specialized care. Here, a Syrian refugee comforts her child at a volunteer’s camp in Kos, Greece on October 10, 2015

Longitudinal study follows subjects over time

In this study, Ahmad and her team sought to evaluate the prevalence of depression symptoms in Syrian refugees within their first year of settlement in Canada (as a baseline) and again at one year later.

The fact that this was a longitudinal study, where researchers study the subjects over time, is important. It means that there’s an added layer of knowledge with unique insights; the researchers can observe how variables can change over an extended period of time and explore the reasons why change occurs.

In this study, the researchers used data from the Syrian Refugee Integration and Long-term Health Outcomes in Canada study (SyRIA.lth). The participants, 1,924 Syrian refugees, were recruited through community-based strategies.

Participants were 49 per cent males and 51 per cent females. The mean [average] age was 38.5 years. Forty-eight per cent had settled in Ontario, 36 per cent in Quebec and 16 per cent in British Columbia. Three-quarters needed an interpreter. Roughly one quarter had jobs.

The researchers interviewed the participants annually, starting in 2017 and continuing until 2020; this study reports on the first two waves of data collection in 2017 and 2018. Depression symptoms were measured using Patient Health Questionnaire 9. This assessment is used to monitor the severity of depression and response to treatment. It can be used to make a tentative diagnosis of depression in at-risk populations.

Researchers discovered rise in depression after one year and found predictors

The researchers found that the prevalence of depression symptoms was 15 per cent at baseline and 18 per cent one year later.

Significant predictors of depression included:

  • having experienced baseline depression,
  • arriving with no relatives in the settling country,
  • language barriers (limited language skills),
  • lack of satisfaction with housing conditions and health services,
  • lower perceived control,
  • lower perceived social support; and
  • longer stay in Canada. 

Ahmad stresses the value in understanding the predictors, since interventions in these areas could alleviate depression in this group of refugees. In particular, she identified four key predictors: baseline depression scores, social support, perceived control and language ability.

For example, she believes that programs promoting a stronger sense of social support and control, and those that strengthen language fluency could be effective in promoting mental health and reducing depression among Syrian refugees.

Our findings are important in advancing scholarly knowledge and to inform the development of focused interventions to address the problem among those who are at a higher risk,” she explains. “Addressing these factors requires multidisciplinary community-based programs to actively reach out to refugees, empower them with information and skills to develop social networks, sense of control and language fluency, and to improve their access to services and employment opportunities,” she adds.

To read the article, visit the journal website. To learn more about Ahmad, visit her Faculty profile page. For more on the Syrian Refugee Settlement Initiative, visit the website.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch; watch our new animated video, which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity, such as Artificial Intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic, a glimpse of the year’s successes.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, Research Communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University,