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Refugee symposium brings together health and resettlement providers to learn from Syria response

Even though there were challenges to providing Primary Care to newly arrived Syrian refugees with pressing medical needs, providers were still able to deliver a level of care that inspired grateful testimonials that were part of the June 28 symposium presentation.

Since it was first announced in fall 2015 that Canada would accept an increased number of Syrian refugees to help alleviate a growing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and Europe, AOHC members across the province stepped up to help fill the gap in Primary Care and welcome newcomers with open arms (and a wide array of programs).

But staff from any centre touched by the influx of refugees will tell you: the work was not without its challenges and late nights. From forging new partnerships with organizations also struggling with the sudden volume of work, to finding ways to manage new resources, whether they were donations, volunteers or funds, the last 18-24 months have presented a nearly unprecedented chance to learn from these challenges and successes.

“We had a sincere desire to learn from the experience of a collaborative response to the Syrian refugee influx,” said Axelle Janczur, Executive Director of Access Alliance CHC, which hosted the June 28 Best Practices Symposium in Toronto. Other partners on hand to share learnings during a panel discussion included Toronto Public Health, COSTI Immigrant Services, Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities, and the Syrian Canadian Foundation.

Some key findings:

    • Intersectoral collaboration was key for meeting Primary Care needs in a timely fashion
    • Transportation and medical interpretation/translation need to be part of early planning conversations, since they can each become pain points when trying to organize care
    • Having dedicated staff and large numbers of volunteers is good, but organizations need capacity to train both staff and volunteers on what they’re doing (since it’s often different from day-to-day routines), but also in self-care and recognizing fatigue
    • Media attention must be carefully managed to ensure a reduced burden of requests for access/interviews, and to use media outlets as a way to publicize areas of need

Overall, Access Alliance's research lead for the project, Fatima Mussa, said she hopes that providers can take Best Practice learnings from the work and implement them to collaborate better in the future.

“This research highlights the need for providers to consider how we allocate resources and support in advance during planning phases with partners, to make sure that services are equitable for all newcomers,” Mussa said. “It also highlights that there are significant advocacy points that providers can collaborate together on, in order to address policy and funding gaps in resettlement services.”

A cross-sector report, which included contributions from peer researchers, health providers, and resettlement groups, was presented alongside video testimonials from newcomers themselves.

Read the summary report: Refugee Resettlement: Lessons Learned From the Syrian Response.

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