Materiality, Community and Syrian Refugee Settlement in Canada

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Norine VERBERG, St. Francis Xavier University, Canada
On a cold December night, members of a refugee settlement committee with the acronym SAFE – for Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace - waited at the airport to greet the first of their “privately sponsored (Syrian) refugees” (PSRs). He entered the arrivals area carrying an infant whose frail mother, also a Syrian refugee, was being assisted by her husband while he carried their toddler. The fatigue and deprivation of the young family was not lost on the SAFE members. Established by five community members, SAFE became a spark for community members who wanted to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. Strangers came together to create a committee structure that would allow them to collaborate to “settle” Syrian refugees. In fact, in a matter of months, SAFE and two other faith groups in a small, primarily rural area of Nova Scotia raised enough money to sponsor six refugee families, as well as settling two government sponsored Syrian refugee families. This paper focuses on how their processes of establishing the material necessities for several Syrian refugee families created community. I argue that their campaigns to raise funds and acquire material necessities such as furniture, bedding, food, clothing, and other tools for living – vehicles, shovels, toboggans - reflects their awareness of the importance of materiality for the social and economic integration of the new residents. Drawing upon insights from participant observation, interviews, and media stories, I argue that assisting refugees to build the lives has created community among people who would otherwise never have met.