After witnessing mass shootings, being subjected to torture and crawling through sniper-controlled areas, migrants continue to navigate difficult conditions even after they cross the Syrian border, says a University of Waterloo sociologist.

Sometimes children of migrant families are forced to work rather than attend school to help pay for rent and food, Suzan Ilcan, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies has found.

Ilcan, who interviewed more than 50 Syrian refugees who have settled in Ontario, says: “The majority of Syrians spoke about their precarious living conditions in Lebanon, Jordon and Turkey, including the lack of permanent residency and formal citizenship, inadequate access to employment, education and healthcare, obstacles to legal and social assistance, poor living and working conditions, and prevailing refugee and anti-foreigner sentiments.”

The term “migrant justice” refers to demands for justice by those on the move who seek access to freedom of movement, safety, protection, rights or citizenship once they are in a new country. In the Syrian case, migrant justice involves negotiating border practices and mobilizing their membership for inclusion or recognition in host states.

Professor Suzan Ilcan

Suzan Ilcan, a Sociology and Legal Studies professor at the University of Waterloo.

Refugees are proponents of change

Often perceived as only victims, Ilcan points out that refugees are also agents of change. “The ability for these and other migrants to negotiate bordering crossings highlights their political agency in making decisions to escape the injustices and vulnerabilities of war, and seeking access to protection in host states, even if such protection is limited.”

While their actions are certainly important, Ilcan emphasizes the need for greater support and policy changes throughout surrounding countries like Lebanon, Jordon, and Turkey.

Ultimately, refugees who face these issues must make a choice: continue their migration to places like Canada that have policies to protect refugees, or stay where they are and learn how to navigate their situation in border countries. With many refugees having to flee their homes without their assets, or having their livelihoods destroyed by war, moving to somewhere like Canada is not always an option. Ilcan stresses that governments, including those within close proximity to places like Syria, must make strong, sustainable policies to assist migrants in their journey towards freedom and migratory justice.