Over the next six years, the cost of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada will reach $1.2 billion. The federal government has earmarked $275 million in support for the immediate processing of the refugees as well as financial support and health care for one year.
While some Canadians have expressed concerns over this, others see it as a long-term investment.
A report issued by financial co-operative Vancity suggests that Syrian refugees are expected to boost British Columbia’s economy by more than half a billion dollars over the next 20 years.
According to Naveed Chaudhry, executive director of Peel Multicultural Council, this could be because Syrians coming to Canada are not from an under-developed country; they are educated and entrepreneurial in nature.
“Yes there is an upfront cost of bringing them into Canada, but I think the benefits far outweigh these costs,” says Chaudhry.
Oppression and entrepreneurship
One immigrant who is currently living the Canadian dream is Nabil Orfali, an IT project manager from Syria, who now owns a consulting firm in Canada.
Orfali graduated in 1998 from a university in Damascus. Shortly after, he developed and launched the first online payment portal in Syria. At 20, he was one of the first people in the country to specialize in web development and worked for a newly established IT company, Syriancom.
While working full-time, he started an internet cafe as a side business with a group of friends but like many other shops, it fell prey to the corruption and oppression of local security forces and the government.
“I think the benefits far outweigh these costs.”
“There was no security in Damascus as they just wanted money and kept the shops closed for hours in the name of security. Incomes were very low,” remembers Orfali.
Things for Orfali and his peers deteriorated when they were conscripted into the army by the ruling government.
“I [would’ve had] to stay three years minimum in military service, which [meant being] out of touch with technology, so I just ran away to Saudi Arabia,” he shares.
He applied for immigration to Canada in 2001 and finally arrived in a the country six years later with his wife and two-year-old daughter.
Adaptation in a new country
Orfali’s story is not much different from those of other newcomers to Canada. Like many immigrants, he experienced difficulties initially landing a job.
But after he experimented with his resume, he got a job as a project manager in one of the larger IT companies, Navantis, in Toronto.
The recession of 2008 hit him hard though, and he was laid off after three months.
He applied for immigration to Canada in 2001 and finally arrived in a the country six years later.
“I was shocked and took it personally that I was probably not qualified,” Orfali remembers. “I did not [think] that it was the recession. This was tough and difficult to deal with, but again I didn’t give up and [I] kept my spirits high.”
A few months later he managed to get another job with the Ontario government services, but was soon laid off again.
“[The] manager said I [was] not a ‘good fit’ for the team. I don’t know why, I was doing a great job, but they laid me off, and it was another shock and shattered my confidence.”
Entrepreneurial success in Canada
After working for several years at a company called Cyberplex, Orfali decided to tap into some of the entrepreneurial spirit in his blood.
Orfali, who always dreamt of establishing his own company growing up in Syria, started working on an online startup: reviewsgurus.com. It was eventually recognized by the Canadian Trade Commission and Orfali was sponsored to go to the Silicon Valley.
“That was a great experience. [I] got in touch with mentors, investors, entrepreneurs,” he shares. “Although I wasn’t able to raise money [from an] investor [. . .] those were the best three months of my life.
“[I] got to the bottom of how to build a successful business.”
After returning to Canada, Orfali started a project with Canadian Tire. He worked there for another two years until he started his own consultancy firm by the name of TechGuilds in December, 2014.
“In 10 months the firm is hitting a revenue of $1.2 million per year. I hired mostly newcomers, interns and fresh graduates, including three Syrians,” explains Orfali. “So that’s my contribution to Canada, and it’s still growing.”
Based on the experience Chaudry has had with Syrian immigrants over the last 25 years, Orfali’s entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t seem uncommon.
“Syrians are from a very diverse and open-minded society. I have seen them settling fast and becoming contributing members of the society.”
Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program.
Tazeen is based in Mississauga and is a reporter with the New Canadian Media. Back in Pakistan where she comes from, she was a senior producer and editorial head in reputable news channels. She holds a master’s degree in Media and Communication and a certificate in TV program production from Radio Netherlands Training Center.