The Resilience and Determination of Refugee Mothers

The Mothers Matter Centre, in collaboration with Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) and with funding from the IRCC, recently developed a participatory research project to answer the question: Does parental agency change during the process of forced migration and resettlement?

17 refugee mothers from Syria and Iraq, all of whom are enrolled in HIPPY and who have been living in Canada for 8 months to 3 years, shared their forced migration stories and how they felt as parents before the war, during forced migration, upon arrival to Canada, and after joining the HIPPY program.

Before the War

In their home countries, the mothers were raising their children in a supportive community.

“I loved for my children to have a future in Syria.”

The felt a strong sense of stability and belonging during this time – they had strong bonds with their neighbours, were close to their friends and family, and had a positive outlook for their own future and those of their children.

During Forced Migration

This was a difficult and emotional time for the mothers to recall. Their forced migration journeys were full of danger, death, and the unknown. Their escape was secret, even from their own families, as they were smuggled through mountains during the night to reach neighbouring borders. Life became “black” – without any sign of hope. Parents were forced to always be alert due to their unpredictable environment and lack of safety, having to sleep in shifts to ensure the protection of their children.

“So we arrived at night. I was taking my son’s boots off. He was two. He said to me ‘This isn’t our home.’ That was so emotional for me.”

They dealt with feelings of depression, isolation, and despair, and also feelings guilt as they questioned their decision to leave. While they knew leaving put their children in danger, their children and their futures were also their motivation.

After Arrival in Canada

The mothers described feeling relieved upon their arrival to Canada. They had a renewed sense of stability and security returning to a normal routine and daily life. These mothers felt happy and hopeful about the possibilities and opportunities that Canada has to offer them.

“Canada gave me everything.”

However as they integrated and settled into Canadian society, new challenges emerged. Language was a huge barrier for them and their children – one that contributed significantly to their social isolation. One mother noted, “We didn’t interact with people when we arrived because we didn’t speak the language.”

After joining HIPPY

HIPPY played a key role in helping the mothers settle and regain a sense of parental agency. The mothers expressed their feelings of delight at being a part of the HIPPY program and appreciated the signifiant impact that their Home Visitors had on them and their families.

“I feel that this program is the first and most successful program I have been to since I came to Canada.”

The home visits gave mothers confidence and encouragement. They were taught parenting strategies to support their children, and language skills that helped them break through their social isolation. The mothers felt empowered by the program and noticed a positive change in their children’s behaviour and cognitive development.

Findings

This workshop found that parental agency is multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and fluid. Components of parent agency fluctuated at different times throughout the forced migration journey as they are impacted by external factors and circumstances.

We shared our findings at the International Metropolis Conference 2019 that took place last month in Ottawa, hosted by the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Learn more about our participatory research workshop in the video below (13:00).

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