Best Practices for Planning Services During Large Cohort Refugee Arrivals

Based on Syrian refugee response, this study seeks to identify best practice recommendations for planning and delivering services when large cohorts of refugees arrive within a short span of time.

Our Research Goals and Methods
Between late 2015 and mid-2017, a total of 40,000 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada (Government of Canada, 2017). Resettling this large cohort of Syrian refugees to Canada within a short amount of time was an extraordinary and complex undertaking. The key goal of this project was to document how different service provider agencies (healthcare, settlement, community development, faith-based/ethno-specific agencies etc.) responded in planning, coordinating and delivering services to recently-arrived government-assisted and privately-sponsored Syrian refugees. In particular, we wanted to understand

  1. the nature and scale of cross-sector collaborations and system navigation supports that were mobilized with attention to the institutional factors that enabled these collaborations and successes, and
  2. document challenges faced, and how agencies responded to these challenges.

To provide a comparative context on how variations in regional/urban contexts affect service planning, our study focused on three urban centres/regions in Ontario: City of Toronto, Region of Peel, and Region of Waterloo. The key reason for doing this study was to identify best practice recommendations for planning, coordinating and delivering services (including but not limited to the health and settlement sectors), when large cohorts of refugees arrive within a short span of time.

We conduced key informant interviews (n=22) with senior-level leaders as well as front-line service providers/mobilizers from healthcare, settlement, government, community development, and faith & non-faith-based organizations/groups. Study participants were recruited using purposive sampling to ensure (i) diversity of representation from different sectors and regions; and (ii) fit and relevance to study goals (participants who played direct and active role in the Syrian refugee response were targeted and prioritized). The interviews were conducted between December 28, 2016 and March 15, 2017.

Our Project Team
This study was conducted by the CBR team at Access Alliance under the leadership of Dr Yogendra Shakya, Sideeka Narayan and Axelle Janczur. Project team members include Fatima Mussa, Nadia Jamil, Iman Malandi (Peer Researcher), Tarek Kadan (Peer Researcher), Maisah Syed (MPH practicum student); Elise Yoon (MSW practicum Student), Meriem Benlamri (MPH practicum student).In line with our CBR framework, two Syrian peer researchers (Tarek Kadan and Iman Malandi) were trained and meaningfully engaged in leadership capacity in the research, analysis and knowledge mobilization activities of the project.

What we found
Our study results show that the urgency and extraordinary situation of large cohort arrivals of Syrian refugees within a few months was met with an extraordinary response in terms of public goodwill, rapid response, problem-solving, and scale of planning and delivery of services. We also found that within and through initial chaos and confusion, exemplary models of cross-sector collaborations were mobilized to provide timely integrated services. Study results show that many new and innovative staffing positions (particularly coordination and stakeholder engagement focused roles), service delivery/coordination framework and interventions were developed and implemented often within rapid response framework. These hold important lessons and building blocks for future planning during large cohort refugee arrivals. One interesting finding is that the temporary accommodation sites (I.e, hotels) served as service hubs and platforms for community-building.

Study participants identified many barriers and challenges including information/communication gaps, funding/resource gaps, coordination gaps, fairness and equity challenges, staff burnout and vicarious trauma, gaps in women’s healthcare services, and lack of culturally sensitive services. Study results point to three key institutional success factors that promoted effective planning, including helping to overcome challenges and gaps: (i) the strong sense of humanitarianism and goodwill from public, service providers, and hundreds of volunteers; (ii) direct and on-the-ground engagement of many senior-level leaders; and (iii) partnerships and relationship based on trust.

You can more in our research summary report titled “Refugee Health and Settlement: Lessons Learned from the Syrian Response”.

Our Knowledge Translation Activities
On June 28th, 2017, we organized a best practice symposium to share findings from our study. The symposium was attended by 86 participants representing 7 sectors. The symposium reflected on experiences in the Syrian response through a key findings presentation from Access Alliance’s research team, followed by a panel discussion from a cross-sectoral perspective. Panel members included Bayan Khatib (Co-founder of The Syrian Canadian Foundation), Kim Cook (Vice President of Community Health and Chief Professional Practice at Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities), Elaine Ebach (Health Promotion Specialist with the Child Health and Development Directorate at Toronto Public Health), and Josie Di Zio (Senior Director of Planning and Program Development at COSTI Immigrant Services).

Our Funder
This study was supported by funding from United Way Toronto and York Region

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