Refugee Settlement and Integration in Regina

Paul Gingrich

Department of Sociology and Social Studies

University of Regina

Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0A2

(306) 585-4196

Paper presented at the Canadian Population Society 1996 Annual Meeting, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario. Session on Ethnic, Linguistic, and other Cultural Dimension of Demographic Behaviour. June 2, 1996. Bali Ram, Statistics Canada, Chair.

Joint Session with the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association.


This paper presents some of the results of a survey of fifty-five individuals who originally arrived in Regina as refugees. The experiences of English language acquisition, labour market activity, and relationships involving community, friends and family are examined. The paper contains a short summary of the development of settlement services in Regina along with the reaction of refugees to these and other services. Regina is a medium-sized city with limited immigration and small ethnic communities. While this presents problems for newcomers, it also creates opportunities that lead to successful settlement in the city. The data for this paper come from the Regina Refugee Research Project, a project that was conducted in 1993 for the Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies and funded by the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada.

Thanks to:

Refugee Settlement and Integration in Regina

Paul Gingrich

Department of Sociology and Social Studies

University of Regina

I. Regina - A Medium-Sized Prairie City

Regina is a medium-sized Prairie city, with a population of just under 180,000, capital of the province of Saskatchewan, the latter with a population of approximately one million people. By standards of the largest urban centres in Canada, or even in comparison with its larger urban counterparts on the Prairies, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg, immigration and refugee settlement in Regina have not been large for over sixty years. At the same time, there is a small but steady flow of immigrants and refugees to Regina and these newcomers help shape the social structures of the city.

Emphasizing the size and location of Regina as a medium-sized Prairie city is deliberate, in that the University of Regina is part of the Prairie Consortium of universities that form the Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Immigrant Integration that is centred in Edmonton. This Centre proposes to place its "emphasis on medium-sized urban centres where the process of immigrant settlement and integration may be decidedly different from and perhaps more successful than that in the largest metropolitan areas of Canada." (Abu-Laban, p. 1). In this paper, some of these different aspects are examined.

Regina has received enough immigrants and refugees to have resulted in the creation of small ethnic communities in the city. Some of these newcomers to Canada and Regina have joined long standing ethnic communities with the city (e.g. Chinese, Serbian and Polish groups) while other groups have had to establish their ethnic communities from the beginning (e.g. Chilean, Salvadorean and Eritrean groups). Other newcomers have been extremely isolated, with few or no others from their country of origin. Some of these communities are divided or split by social background, religion or politics, some are relatively united and some groups have not been able to establish communities of their own. Many of the newcomers to Regina stay in the city for a short period of time and then leave for other, often larger, urban centres outside Saskatchewan.

This paper examines some of the aspects of the experiences of these newcomers to Regina who arrive from outside Canada. In particular, the focus will be on illustrating the special problems that refugees coming to a city like Regina might have and outlining some of the opportunities that might differ from the opportunities for newcomers in larger urban centres. While ethnic communities are not large, for those newcomers who are able to become established in the city, life in Regina is comfortable, lower cost than in larger cities, and not subject to some of the negative features that many claim exist in larger centres. The conclusion of the paper is that integration into the life of the city is reasonably successful for those who refugees who stay in the city. As a policy conclusion, governments might consider locating larger numbers of newcomers to Canada in Regina and similar sized cities across the country.

Outline of Paper. After some introductory comments on the size of immigration and ethnic groups in Regina and in Saskatchewan, this paper examines experiences related to English language acquisition and labour force participation. Some aspects of the experiences related to community, friends and family are examined next, followed by a discussion of some of the services available for immigrants in Regina. A conclusion summarizes some of the difficulties that might exist in a medium-sized city and some of the ways in which problems related to integration might be more readily solved in Regina than in some of the larger centres. An appendix outlines the methods used in the Regina Refugee Research Project, the project which provided the data for this paper.

II. The Immigrant and Refugee Population of Regina

The size of the immigrant population of Regina in 1991, by place of birth and period of immigration, is shown in Table 1. Before 1971, there were relatively few refugees or immigrants to Regina from locations outside Europe or the United States. Soon after 1971 there were some refugees from Chile and later in that decade from southeast Asia. While the 1971 dividing line is arbitrary, as has been noted for many other parts of Canada, in recent years the pattern of immigration by country of origin has shifted considerably, away from Europe and towards other parts of the world (Logan, p. 32). In particular, over the last twenty years there has been a considerable increase in the number of immigrants to Regina who come from eastern and southern Asia, Africa, and the Americas south of the United States. Many of the immigrants who came to Regina before 1971 came in a much earlier period, some arriving in the first quarter of the century. The percentage distributions of Table 2 clearly illustrate the shift of countries of origin of immigrants away from Europe toward some of the other regions of the world.

Like other Canadian cities, the population of Regina includes many rural people who have moved to the city. This is especially true of Regina, set in the midst of one of the most rural parts of the country. Part of the rural population is people of First Nations origin and in the last few years many of these people have moved to the city, or maintain a foothold on the reserve and in the city. The main visible minority in the city is people of aboriginal origin, and this constitutes a definite difference from many of the larger Canadian urban centres, where it is immigrants or their children who form the bulk of the visible minority groups.

Also to be noted is that in Saskatchewan, Saskatoon is the only other major city. In many ways it is similar to Regina, with just a few more residents, about 190,000. Experiences of immigrants and refugees in Saskatoon are likely to be quite similar to those of Regina. Apart from these two major cities in the province, the other cities are all under 35,000 population and they receive even less immigrants and refugees than do the two major cities.

One other population characteristic of Regina and Saskatchewan that should be noted is the heavy out migration of people from the province. Since 1931, the province has exported a number of people almost equal to the natural increase of the province, so that the total population of the province has grown by less than 100 thousand people in over sixty years. Population movements in Saskatchewan are part of a redistribution of population from rural to urban parts of the country, the latter usually in another province. The movements of refugees or immigrants who arrive in Regina may be no different than people born in Saskatchewan. Individuals and families consider the variety of options they have open to them in the province as only one possibility in a wider set of options. The latter set of options may include moving to Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or other centres.

This paper is concerned with refugee settlement and integration rather than with immigration. The number of government sponsored refugees that arrived in Regina since 1985 is given in Table 3. In addition to these, there is also a smaller number of refugees who are sponsored by churches, individuals or other groups. I have not been able to obtain estimates for the latter, but it seems likely that the number of refugees who arrive in Regina annually has been between 150 and 250 for the last ten years. The source countries for these refugees has varied considerably, in large part because of the changing patterns of world problem spots that have produced refugees. For example, the number of refugees of Cambodian and Laotian origin has been minimal in recent years, although there were considerable numbers of such refugees to Regina before 1985. In contrast, there have been more refugees of Bosnian and African origin during the last five years. In 1995, two-thirds of the 220 refugees came from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and there were small number of refugees from previously unrepresented countries like Myanmar (Burma), Burundi, Liberia and Zaire. One other point that may not be clear from Table 3 is that the bulk of Iraqi refugees have been of Kurdish origin, although some are also of Assyrian (Christian) origin.

In order to see what the potential size of the ethnic community in Regina might be for each of the countries of origin of refugees, Table 4 has been constructed. This table gives the ethnic distribution for the residents of Regina as published in recent Census volumes for the refugee source countries of Table 3. Comparable numbers are also shown for the province of Saskatchewan as a whole. By comparing Tables 3 and 4 it can be seen that many of the refugees who came to Regina must have left the city, or possibly they did not respond to the Census of 1991.

III. Settlement Services in Regina

A couple years after I moved to Regina in the early 1970s, refugees from Chile began to arrive in Regina. Manpower and Immigration personnel, along with church groups and individuals, found places for the newcomers to live and assisted them with establishing a new life in Regina. There were few or no settlement services for these refugees and they had to find their own way in a city with a strange language and sometimes inhospitable weather, but with a social and economic climate that was reasonably receptive toward them. There was no previous Chilean community in the city and also relatively few Spanish speaking people lived in Regina. As a result, some of the newcomers left for other cities but many stayed and since have made great contributions to the city (see the theses by Milen and Cunningham).

The haphazard treatment of and disorganized services for new refugees arriving in Regina began to change in the mid 1970s. The Regina Open Door Society (RODS) was established in 1976 as a settlement service for government sponsored refugees. The federal government did not have great experience in assisting refugee settlement before this, but across Canada a system of settlement services began to be regularized around this time. Beginning as an outreach organization, RODS gradually developed more services during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The arrival of considerable numbers of refugees from southeast Asia prompted new government initiatives and RODS was instrumental in piloting some of the new programs that later became part of settlement services elsewhere. For example, Regina was the first city where the settlement agency purchased a settlement house -- a large house where new refugee arrivals could live until more permanent accommodation could be found. This has been more suitable for newcomers than placing them in hotels or motels, and settlement agencies in many cities across the country now have such houses. This year RODS is celebrating its twentieth anniversary and it has established itself as not only as a settlement agency in Regina but also as a centre where refugees and other immigrants in the city can meet and receive help when they encounter problems.

In addition to the government sponsored refugees who have arrived, many of the Regina churches have helped sponsor refugees and have assisted them after they arrive in the city. The Regina Refugee Coalition and the University of Regina Group for Refugees have done the same. After these refugees arrive in Regina, the regular municipal, provincial and federal government services as well as the services from churches, community groups and the business sector become available to them. There are also some programs in the city aimed specifically at newcomers to Canada. English as a Second Language programs are available through the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) and the University of Regina, as well as through RODS. The Regina Public Library has established a tutoring program that is used by many newcomers. The public and separate school boards have also established programs to assist students whose first language is not English.

The services in Regina that are available to newcomers to Canada may seem limited in comparison with the largest cities across the country. But over the past twenty years, Regina has developed a range of services that have been of great assistance to refugees and other immigrants who arrive in the city.

IV. Project Methodology

The survey data for this paper come from the Regina Refugee Research Project. The aim of the project was to investigate the meaning of successful settlement and examine some of the barriers to settlement and integration of newcomers. In the project we obtained information about the experiences that refugees had with settlement services in Regina, identified gaps and shortcomings in these services and provided suggestions concerning how these services might be improved.

After some background research, several graduate students and I developed an interview schedule and interviewed fifty-five individuals in Regina who had originally arrived in the city as refugees -- these individuals are referred to as "project participants" in the rest of this paper. The interview schedule covered the areas of English language acquisition, employment and unemployment, health and health services, community, friends and family, and a variety of related issues. A short description of the methodology is contained in the Appendix and a fuller analysis of the results is contained in the final report from the project (Gingrich, 1995).

Behind the data stand the more general issues of what the barriers to successful settlement are, and what is the range of meanings of successful settlement and integration into Canadian society. We did not really define these latter concepts, but based on the interview and the self-evaluation of the refugee participants, we were able to develop a reasonable indication of the areas in which the respondents were satisfied and the areas where they felt were problems. It is not clear that an overall or single judgment can be made concerning what successful settlement and integration mean. But looking at factors such as language acquisition, jobs and incomes, community and friends, and a range of satisfaction variables allow a reasonable assessment of how the project participants felt about settlement services and life in Regina. For example, for those who indicated that they should have stayed in their country of origin and generally expressed dissatisfaction with many aspects of life in Regina, settlement cannot be considered to have been successful. Those with jobs and reasonable income levels, and using a variety of city services, can be considered to have had some success. But certainly the latter do not have everything they desire or might have anticipated obtaining -- they might lack a temple at which to worship or their family might not be complete. Hopefully these data and this paper will assist in helping develop a better understanding of the meaning of successful settlement and integration.

V. Language

With only a small French-speaking presence remaining in Saskatchewan, one of the first steps that any non-English speaking refugee who arrives in Regina must take is to attempt to learn some English. There are no ethnic enclaves in which the newcomer can retreat and hope to survive. If the newcomer is to obtain services and find a job in the city, learning some English is an absolute necessity. During the 1970s and much of the 1980s, many of the refugees who arrived in Regina were not able to obtain much formal training in the English language. Some did not take any English classes at all and learned English on the job, by reading and by watching television. Since this time, the situation has improved considerably and all newcomers now are able to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

Our findings were that those who spent about ten months in English classes generally reported that they had sufficient training. Many of those with less than this said that their job or other opportunities were somewhat reduced because of insufficient English language training. While the absence of sufficient English classes is likely a problem that cuts across all cities, there were a number of problems that are more likely to emerge in a city like Regina. Apart from insufficient numbers and length of English classes, mixing people from different social, national and educational backgrounds seemed to be the most common problem respondents reported with respect to English language training. As an illustration of this, consider how difficult it would be for a single class to simultaneously meet the needs of an illiterate Cambodian and a Salvadorean who has had training in a professional program in her country. In addition, where there are tensions between members of ethnic communities, both sides may be thrown into the same class -- perhaps people who were on opposite sides of a civil war. For these newcomers the class may be a good exercise in practising tolerance, but it could instead increase tensions to the point where learning does not occur.

In recent years the three agencies that offer ESL classes have been able to coordinate their efforts to solve most of these problems. Those with some university background can take ESL classes at the University of Regina, those with special needs such as child care needs can take classes at RODS, and most others go to SIAST. At the same time, individuals can choose to attend the classes at the institution that is closest to their place of residence.

One finding of our study was that having some abilities in English is an important feature that goes much beyond finding a job or communicating on a daily basis. A major complaint of those we interviewed was that they had difficulty communicating with medical and health personnel. In Regina, not all of the languages spoken by newcomers are spoken by health professionals, and newcomers from countries like Laos or Iran are forced to deal with these professionals in English. While the people we interviewed were generally quite satisfied with health services, they did find it stressful to deal with health issues in a foreign language. Those who knew Spanish generally went to one of the few Spanish speaking physicians in the city. An Eritrean who knew some Italian found an Italian speaking physician. But the Vietnamese had real problems because there is no physician in the city who speaks Vietnamese and only one nurse of Vietnamese background. While many of the refugees themselves had learned sufficient English to communicate, some expressed concern about the ability of the parents of the refugees to communicate with health service personnel. Several immigrant families have sponsored their parents for immigration to Canada and these parents are now arriving and will continue to arrive in Regina. It is unlikely that these older immigrants will learn much English, so there could be problems of this sort for a number of years.

VI. Labour Market Experiences

One of the main problems associated with the Regina labour market is that it is a thin market in many ways, at least compared with Canada's largest cities. Because of this, many long time residents of Regina, and many young people, move to cities with a more extensive set of jobs and a wider range of types of jobs. Those refugees who come to Regina and find a job that they consider acceptable however, seem to find that a strong enough reason to stay in the city.

We were not able to survey those who left the city -- that would be an interesting project that the four Centres of Excellence might consider working on together -- to trace the pattern of movements of refugees and immigrants after they have spent some time in Canada, and to investigate why and how they make the decision to move. Settlement workers in Regina provide anecdotes about people who left Regina that make it seem that a limited number of jobs has been a major factor in decisions to leave the city. It may not be that jobs are assured elsewhere, but if there is a very small ethnic community in Regina, the attractions of being in a centre with a larger ethnic community may be sufficient to encourage movement elsewhere. That is, faced with similar probabilities of a job in different centres, many of the refugees would be expected to choose a location with greater other attractions. The high unemployment rates in many Canadian cities in the last few years may be discouraging such out migration though. We were not able to test this contention, but RODS personnel are of the view that more recent refugee arrivals have a greater chance of staying in Regina than were those who arrived a number of years ago.

Among the refugees we surveyed, all who were in the city for more than three years were employed or had been employed. It was only those who had arrived quite recently who seemed to be having difficulty get a foothold in the labour market. Many of the earlier arrivals, from before 1985, were from southeast Asia, with quite varied experiences and backgrounds. Some from Cambodia and Laos had little or no education, while some were professionals who were fluent in English or French before leaving southeast Asia. Since these people received limited assistance when they first arrived in Regina, they had little choice but to take whatever jobs were available, and use these as a base from which to improve their standing in the labour market. Given their background, many of these refugees realized that they would never be able to work their way up to higher paying jobs, and generally seemed to accept their position in the "less skilled" portion of the service sector.

Those who had arrived in the three years before the study was conducted were less integrated into the labour market. Some were still taking language classes or other forms of education or training and some were supporting themselves with the help of social assistance. Those who arrived in the city more recently undoubtedly received more settlement assistance than did those who arrived earlier. But those who arrived more recently had no established ethnic community which could provide connections to employment, while those who arrived earlier had established a considerable network of friends, acquaintances and connections by the time the project was conducted.

One factor that several project participants complained about was the considerable mismatch between their occupation in their country of origin and the occupation of their current job. From Table 5 it can be seen that 16, about one-third, of the project participants with jobs in Regina were professionals in their country of origin, but only 6 of these had found jobs in Regina that could be considered professional. Those of professional background in their own country have often had to accept jobs in the service sector in Regina. Many of these project participants felt that these were inappropriate to their social status or provided too low an income. As Table 6 shows, it is those in the "more skilled" service sector jobs that expressed the greatest dissatisfaction with their job, not those in the "less skilled" jobs. While the numbers are small, this conclusion was supported by looking at the comments that some of the project participants gave, in the course of the interview, about their employment situation in Regina. A general conclusion of project participants was that their credentials and earlier job experiences were not adequately recognized or accepted in Canada.

The project participants' initial jobs often began through friends and contacts made during the period of language or other training. Being in a city the size of Regina can prove helpful to newcomers, in that the network of connections of RODS staff and others to jobs can be maintained and is considerable. This is especially important in Regina because there are relatively few large employers and newcomers do not have a ready community network of friends from their country of origin to connect them to potential jobs.

While many of the respondents we interviewed moved on from a first job to another job, 15 of the 39 respondents with jobs were still at their first job and another 16 were at their second job. Only 3 of the 39 had passed through four or more jobs. Of those who had left a first job, about one-half left for a better job or other reasons, and for about one-third there was no choice because the job ended. While I was not able to compare this with other longitudinal data on jobs, it seems that these respondents generally stuck with their jobs for extended periods of time. Milen found a similar result for earlier Chilean refugees to the city, with most having had between one and three jobs. She notes "To find that Chileans have relatively stable jobs is an indication of their level of adjustment. The study also shows Chileans do not move or change jobs often." (Milen, pp. 51-52).

Many of the respondents were in families with two or more household members having jobs. It appeared that many of the jobs provided a very low income for project participants, and household survival required other income earners in the household. For the small sample of those who arrived earliest, almost all the husband-wife headed households had both spouses employed.

In summary, there are certainly very mixed labour market experiences. In terms of future research, I would hope that some longitudinal studies could be conducted to track refugee experience with respect to labour market and other activities over time. The respondents in our study certainly showed a strong commitment to employment and there was little evidence of use of social assistance after the first few years. It would seem worthwhile for researchers in the future to trace how those who arrive in Canada as refugees make decisions concerning labour market and other activities as well as city of residence.

VII. Community, Friends and Family

Regina has a considerable number of ethnic communities in the sense of people interacting and having organizations, meeting places and places of worship. Some of the communities of European origin (e.g. Ukrainian, German, Romanian, Hungarian) are of long standing, have a well developed community and have well established organizations. Each year in Regina there is an ethnic festival "Mosaic" with about twenty different ethnic groups setting up pavilions to present Reginans with the food, music, dance and art of their countries of origin. In contrast to these well established groups, most of those newcomers who have arrived as refugees in the city in recent years do not have such a community ready to welcome or assist them. In addition, while there are areas of the city in which new arrivals congregate and interact, there are no ethnic enclaves in the city.

In spite of limited numbers, many of the people from the countries listed in Tables 3 and 4 have established their own organizations. There are Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Salvadorean and Eritrean organizations or associations in the city. Refugees from Nicaragua, Guatemala and Iran have not established such organizations in the city. Given that the numbers in each group are limited, establishing such organizations in a city like Regina can be very difficult.

The dispersed residential location and limited transportation did not appear to be problems, perhaps because of the size of the city. But one of the major problems cited by project participants was the lack of a meeting place. This was mentioned many times by those interviewed and was compounded by the fact that many of these groups also were unable to establish a place or worship. For those from southeast Asia, this was a particular problem. While many of these people are Buddhists, the languages and traditions of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam differ enough that each group would like to have its own place of worship. Since the project was completed, some of the groups have been able to establish a place of worship -- helping to meet the spiritual needs of these people and providing a community centre and meeting place.

While many refugees from Vietnam, Eritrea and Central America are Christian, they do not always appear happy with the manner in which churches in Regina function. Given the limited numbers of people from each of these areas, they have not been able to establish their own churches, yet do not feel entirely comfortable with the churches here. One man from Central America commented that the style of religion is different here, the church lacks a welcoming atmosphere, and that he would like to have a Spanish speaking priest.

While a small ethnic group might be expected to pull together and be united, this is not always the case. In Regina, many of the ethnic groups are quite small in numbers (see Table 4). Yet the individuals in these small ethnic groups may not get along with each other, the group may be divided, or different factions may form in opposition to each other. As Peter Li notes about cultural diversities, "in many instances the intra-ethnic cultural variation is as great as the inter-ethnic one." (Li, p. 29) In the project we certainly found evidence of this and also of political differences. In a larger centre, each cultural or political group from a particular country could create or gravitate toward an ethnic organization of their preference. This has been the case for the Ukrainian and Chinese communities in Regina, two groups that have sufficient numbers to support different organizations.

Most project participants said they got along well personally with all the other people from their country of origin. But many indicate that the community is divided or in opposition. This division appeared most serious in the Salvadorean community, but perhaps this is to be expected. As one Salvadorean said, after all "we have had a civil war." Project participants indicated that the Laotian and Vietnamese groups tended to be divided by religion and culture. One Vietnamese project participant indicated that "Vietnamese join forces when needed. They get together for New Years or when someone dies."

At the more personal level of friends, almost all project participants indicated that they had several friends and sometimes quite an extensive network of friends. Several project participants reported extreme isolation however, with some resigned to this and others considering relocation to another centre where there would be a larger ethnic community. Most project participants had some Canadian friends and many participants said that they would consult a Canadian friend if they needed help finding a job, a doctor or a lawyer. While I have no comparable data from larger centres, it seems likely that newcomers to Regina interact with Canadians more than in these larger centres. For most newcomers to Regina there is little choice but to interact in some manner with Canadians. One other difference from larger centres may be that people from quite different countries of origin interact more in Regina. For example, an Eritrean and a Salvadorean thrown together in an ESL class might establish a friendship.

Family relationships in a city like Regina are probably little different than family relationships elsewhere. When asked about bringing other family members to the city, approximately one-fifth of the project participants considered their family in Regina to be complete. Many of the other project participants indicated that they would like to bring their parents or brothers and sisters. For a city like Regina, this may present some problems for the sponsors. Jobs are limited and siblings who arrive in the city may find it difficult to find employment. For parents, the problems would mostly be related to the small size of the ethnic community and limited or nonexistent services in their own language. It seems unlikely that many of the parents would learn English, and as a result the parents may become quite isolated in Regina. One response to this has been for RODS to establish a seniors group.

The project did not investigate issues related to children and youth to any great degree, and we did not interview any children or youth. Given the size of the various ethnic groups in Regina, it is to be expected that the children and youth would generally not find a large group of friends from a similar background. Whether this is of assistance or a block to their integration into Canadian society is not clear from this study. There were certainly a number of problems that project participants reported concerning their children and the schools, but the project did not investigate these sufficiently to make any real conclusions.

VIII. Services

One set of services that we explored in the project was city services. Given the very limited income of most of the project participants, it is no surprise that the services that are available without cost appeared to receive the greatest use. The city parks and the public libraries were the most commonly reported city services used. The children of the project participants use the sporting facilities in the city quite extensively, although the cost of using some of these can be considerable. Certainly the soccer organizations in the city have received a great boost in recent years with the arrival of more refugees and immigrants.

When designing the interview schedule for the project, it was anticipated that there would be considerable dissatisfaction with health services. In fact, project participants reported relatively few problems in this area. The main problems indicated were language and communication problems, although a few did indicate long waiting times to meet doctors and the relationships between individuals and health professionals were not always the same as in the countries of origin. Since high quality health services are available without direct cost in Saskatchewan, there appeared to be no major problems related to treatment of the physical health of newcomers other than language and communication difficulties. While the project did ask questions related to mental health and counselling, interviewers generally found project participants reluctant to discuss these issues. This may imply difficulties for newcomers in this general area, but the project investigation of this area of health was not sufficient to make any conclusions.

The Regina Public Library deserves special note. The Library is a free and open facility and is heavily used by the project participants. It provides resource materials, a place to go and a place to meet people. In addition, the Library has a tutoring program that many newcomers have used. These tutors begin by assisting people with learning the English language, but often the tutor ends up helping the newcomer deal with a great variety of daily activities. Although we did not specifically ask about this, several of the people we interviewed gave information about this program and said that these tutors were of great assistance to them.

The activities of the staff of RODS are also a great help to newcomers as they encounter problems with city services and learn how to function in the city. One of the great advantages of having a relatively small number of newcomers each year is that the staff of RODS know the newcomers and maintain contact with many of these newcomers for several years. The people who have come to Regina as refugees find that the settlement agency is ready to help them with new problems as they arise and can deal with these problems as friends at a personal level. The Executive Director noted that RODS makes contact with a wide variety of organizations in the city, and is generally aware of how the problems of newcomers can be met. In addition, with a large number of relatively small employers in the city, RODS staff acts as a liaison between these employers and newcomers, and can provide considerable assistance in matching prospective employees with employers. In doing this, the fact that RODS staff is full time and is relatively stable over time has allowed for continued personal contacts to be developed.

The Executive Director of RODS also noted that when residents of Regina are asked to assist newcomers, these residents are generally receptive to helping newcomers with their problems. He commented that there exists a certain "Prairie naivete" or friendliness and openness that acts to help both the long term residents of the city and the newcomers. There is little suspicion of newcomers but rather a genuine interest in people from a different background. While RODS finds it difficult to raise funds from people and organizations in the city, they have a very extensive group of volunteers -- from host families to employers -- people who can be relied on to provide newcomers with the help they need.

IX. Conclusion

In summary, individuals and families who arrived in Regina as refugees and have stayed in the city appear to have worked hard to establish organizations and networks that allow them to survive and to improve their lives in the city. This process has been made both easier and more challenging because of the size of the city and the limited numbers of people from their own background.

The period after first arriving in Canada is difficult for any newcomer. Perhaps it is more difficult in a city like Regina, without large ethnic communities, although the people of the city and the services of RODS and other organizations help newcomers deal with this initial set of problems. Some newcomers to Regina find their ethnic community too small, some find the city too small and some find the city too cold in the winter. On the other hand, those who do stay generally appear to settle reasonably successfully into the city. Newcomers to Regina usually have to learn English in order to function. They cannot retreat into an ethnic enclave or rely on a pre-existing network of ethnic contacts. While this presents real challenges for some, those who get through this period generally appear to be happy with the city.

In terms of implications for policy, it might be worthwhile for governments to consider sending more of the government sponsored refugees to medium-sized cities like Regina. While massive increases in numbers would begin to alter the processes described in this paper, certainly the success of agencies like RODS and the experiences of many of those newcomers who have stayed in Regina are encouraging. Increased refugee settlement in medium-sized cities would require cooperation from all levels of governments, and continued help from individual volunteers and groups like RODS. The results of such a policy could lead to considerable benefits for these cities and could be a means by which Canada could continue to meet the humanitarian goal of assisting a few of the world's refugees.

Appendix. Project Methodology.

The Regina Refugee Research Project was funded by the Saskatchewan Association of Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agencies (SAISIA). This is an umbrella group of four settlement agencies in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert. The funds to carry out the project initially came from the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada. These funds were divided equally between Regina and Saskatoon and there was a parallel project in Saskatoon. The Regina project was carried out at the University of Regina with a preliminary report given to SAISIA in September, 1993 and a final report published in December, 1995 (Gingrich, 1995).

The staff of the University of Regina that were involved in the project were Paul Gingrich and Doug Scott, with student assistants Eugenia Valenzuela, Stephen Hidasi, Heather Lissel, Jiaming Liu, Mike Sosteric, Gail Bryanton and Christopher Fries.

The project was initially titled "Refugee Settlement and Integration: Removing the Barriers," and it was designed to explore two areas of concern. The first goal of the study was to examine settlement programs and integration into Regina, and the second was to determine what successful settlement meant, and to provide some indication of how well newcomers had integrated into the city.

The project began with the aim of finding many of the eight hundred to nine hundred refugees who had been welcomed by the Regina Open Door Society between 1988 and 1991. This represented about two hundred families, many of whom had moved out of Regina. The number of potential respondents was further reduced by some families choosing not to participate in the study. With help from community members and the Regina Open Door Society we also contacted several Regina residents who had been refugees from Southeast Asia, and arrived in Regina prior to 1988. In total, fifty-five households agreed to participate and interviews were conducted with one adult member of each household.

The procedure we followed was to initiate contact with the potential respondent by sending a letter to the family or individual, followed by a telephone call requesting an interview. In most cases either the husband or the wife was reasonably proficient in English, and in some instances a teenager or an older child was present to help translate difficult questions or ideas. Due to the length of the interview schedule and some language problems, the interviews took anywhere from one to four hours. The shorter interviews served to develop a portrait of the respondent, but did not capture the feelings of the individual as well as the longer interviews. Once the interviews were completed, the project director coded the information obtained in the interview, and wrote a brief profile of the respondent based on the interviewer's supplemental notes.

The final report represented the last stage of the project. Each of the project participants was sent a copy of the report and was invited to an open forum where they were asked to comment on the report and make suggestions for improving settlement services in Regina. This forum took place in December, 1995.

A few statistics describing the project participants are given here.

Sex: 39 males and 16 females were interviewed.

Age in 1993: 6 aged 20-29, 23 aged 30-39, 17 aged 40-49 and 9 aged 50 plus.

Age at Time of Arrival: 2 under 20, 15 aged 20-29, 27 aged 30-39, 6 aged 40-49 and 5 aged 50 or more.

Year of Arrival: 11 in 1979-1982, 12 in 1985-1988. 32 in 1989-1992.

Country of Origin: 5 from Cambodia, 21 from El Salvador, 5 from Eritrea, 4 from Iran, 7 from Laos, 5 from Vietnam, 2 from each of Guatemala, Poland and Romania, and 1 from each of Ethiopia and Nicaragua.

Household Structure: 35 husband-wife with children, 4 husband-wife without children, 9 husband-wife with children and others, 4 single males and 3 single females.

Household Size: 3 with one person, 6 with two persons, 3 with three persons, 15 with four persons, 13 with 5 persons, 8 with six persons and 7 with seven or more persons.

Main Activity: 33 employed, 12 unemployed, 3 in the home and 7 at school.

Family Types: 7 single individuals; 4 husband-wife (H-W), no children; 8 H-W children under age 6, no children aged 6-17; 18 H-W, children under 6 and children 6-17; 8 H-W, no children under 6, children aged 6-17; 10 H-W, no children under 6, children 6-17 and others.


Abu-Laban, Baha, Application to SSHRC for the Establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Immigrant Integration (Edmonton, University of Alberta, 1995).

Cunningham, Nancy Jane, Chilean Refugee Settlement in Canada: the Case of Regina (Ottawa, National Library of Canada, 1988). Unpublished Masters thesis.

Gingrich, Paul, Refugee Settlement and Integration: Removing the Barriers (Regina, University of Regina, 1995).

Li, Peter S., Ethnic Inequality in a Class Society (Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, 1988).

Logan, Ronald, "Immigration During the 1980s," in Canadian Social Trends: A Canadian Studies Reader, Volume 2 (Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, 1994), pp. 31-34.

Milen, Carmen Alicia (Robles), The Personal Adjustment and Acculturation of the Chilean Émigré in the City of Regina (Regina, University of Regina, 1981). Unpublished Masters thesis.

This page was last edited on December 29, 1998.

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