Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Ensuring that newcomers are empowered

Migration & Integration

Immigration and integration are key to helping future cities thrive

Canada is among the world’s most welcoming nations for immigrants. In addition, as the United Nations has noted, this country has an exceptional history of embracing refugees. And yet, there are reasons to be concerned.

Populism based on protectionist and nativist ideologies is spreading globally and even putting some liberal democracies at risk. Canada is not immune to those pressures or the degree to which, as a core tenet, they seek to devalue the essential role newcomers play in a country’s growth and prosperity.

If Canada wants to be regarded as an example for inclusive narratives, we need to stand on guard against such threats. And to do that, we need to understand them better.

At the same time, we need to acknowledge the hurdles faced by local communities in integrating immigrants and refugees. Part of that involves learning more about the process of adapting to a multicultural, yet cohesive social fabric from the perspective of newcomers.

Researchers at Ryerson are exploring these and other issues related to migration and settlement. In doing so, they are helping to better understand what newcomers mean to Canada — and what Canada means to newcomers.

Estimated number of global refugees, roughly half of whom are under 18 years old

Examining migration and integration

While globalization has many benefits, it also produces challenges. We see that in the way delocalized production, transnational delivery of services and the adoption of disruptive technologies can lead to precarious employment. Moreover, our welfare systems struggle to keep pace in that environment.

Migration affects the equilibrium of work and welfare, too. Providing cheaper care services where welfare systems fall short, introducing new talent to push technological innovation further and bringing in much-needed manual labour can have the appearance of competing with native workers.

“We need to keep studying and analyzing how migration affects — and is affected by — global and local socio-economic transformations, with a view to ensuring that both migrants and natives are provided with support and are enabled to make the most of their skills and capacities,” says Anna Triandafyllidou, who joined Ryerson in 2019 as the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration.

a group of researchers at a roundtable
CERC Migration Working Group. Photo by: Alyssa Faoro

The prestigious position — and the first CERC awarded to Ryerson — builds on the university’s strengths and commitments in the area of immigration and integration studies and is supported by up to $10 million in funding over seven years.

Over the past 20 years, Triandafyllidou has built an influential body of work with research that has become the standard reference among academics and policy-makers. Now, she is leading an ambitious research agenda at Ryerson in what she describes as a 360-degree approach to examining migration and integration.

Portion of Canada’s population that’s forecast to be made up of immigrants by 2036

“This means that we need to study the impact of migration at the lower and higher ends of the labour market, we need to understand the lived experiences of a diverse labour force, we need to assess how the migration policies of Canada serve the labour market and we need to make sure that all workers’ rights are respected,” she explains.

The data she and her team are collecting will provide insights that could affect a wide range of policies and practices, from how to reboot Canada’s stalled immigration system under the pandemic taking advantage of innovative tech solutions, to assisting migrant entrepreneurship, protecting labour rights, managing temporary migration schemes, possibly reforming the points-based system and even how to use — or not to use — artificial intelligence in the governance of migration and asylum.

“I hope our research helps us understand our common challenges, so we can work together to solve them,” adds Triandafyllidou.

In light of projections stemming from Canada’s last census in 2016 that the share of this country’s population made up of immigrants could reach as high as 30 percent by 2036, that outcome seems more necessary and relevant than ever.

Moving away from stereotypes

What is often overlooked in discussions about newcomers to Canada are the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups: refugee children.

It’s also a neglected group in social sciences research, according to Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, who is based in the School of Early Childhood Studies, and teaches and supervises students in three graduate programs at Ryerson.

smiling women and young children at a refugee camp
Syrian refugee children with their families

The reasons for this neglect reflect various challenges that researchers must navigate when working with refugee children, Ali explains. These include addressing the concerns of university research ethics boards and other gatekeepers such as school officials and parents or guardians. The lack of a common language and understanding of socio-linguistic norms, including expectations around social interactions between men and women, and children and adults, are additional challenges for researchers.

Other special skills may also be required, considering that refugee children may have been traumatised as a result of their experiences.

Many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them. We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it.
Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali, Professor, Early Childhood Studies

To address the absence of such studies, Ali is leading a study on refugee children on communicating — through drawings, conversations, written and dictated texts and facial expressions and gestures — what they “remember, feel and care about” as they explore and adapt to their new surroundings.

“Without knowing what those children are thinking and feeling, we simply act on our assumptions about them,” says Ali. “The gap in our understanding of these children gets filled with stereotypes, as a result. We tend to think of them as ‘poor, suffering, innocent creatures’ we must rescue!”

Yet, in Ali’s view that kind of thinking reduces them to “one-dimensional, cardboard-like figures” and we miss opportunities to learn how young people are affected by war, violence, exile and migration.

“Yes, many of these children have experienced trauma, but there is nothing ‘typical’ about them,” Ali claims. “We need to approach research with refugee children with great humility, yet do much more of it, to get to know them and learn how to support them, if needed,” she adds.

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