Study research suggests that social inclusion of Afghan refugees is the ultimate acceptance and recognition in Canada


Mohammad Shafique

Technically inclusion is a powerful word that includes young and old, rich and poor and white and black under a shadow. It shows people’s contributions and relations with each other in a diverse community. In late 1980 the concept of social inclusion is adopted by European Union, as a key concept of social policy, because the term social inclusion has been an economic element, which is associated with poverty (Omidvar and Richmond, 2003). However, compared to Europe and Australia, it is a new concept in North America particularly in Canada. Social inclusion is defined as; a response to the individual’s previous social life and a notion of belonging, acceptance, and recognition (Journal of Senate, 2013). The World Bank defined social inclusion as “the process of improving the term on which individuals and the group take part in society, improving the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity to take part in society” (World Bank, 2013. P. 1).

Migration and settlement in a new society are some of the most challenging approaches in the world. In different ways, it may shape national and international policies in diverse communities. Looking at newcomers, especially the Afghan Diaspora, and comparing them to non-immigrant Canadians, may come up with differences between both communities and their lifestyles. It is essential for immigrants and newcomers, after moving from their home countries, to adopt some kind of lifestyle in a new society. Most of the time such adaptation is challenged by some barriers, including affordable housing, language proficiency, less communication with community members, racism and discrimination, economic integration, and religious inclusion. These barriers and challenges may slow the integration process of newcomers, and take a long period of time to recognize, whether such inclusion and contribution as a member of society, is valued or not. (Laidlaw Foundation, 2002).

This article focuses on recently arrived Afghan newcomers and their social inclusion in Canadian society. In addition, the study also focuses on those barriers and challenges that affect the newcomers’ social inclusion process. So, to support this article, along with the literature review, I am going to discuss some recently arrived Afghan immigrant stories as evidence of successful inclusion in Canadian society.

Literature review:

Social inclusion is the ultimate basic notion of belonging, acceptance, and recognition in Canada (Omidvar and Richmond, 2003). Montgomery, (2002) added that the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms grants equal rights to all residents in Canadian territory, but literally, they don’t treat immigrants equally, such behavior would count as a social exclusion rather than social inclusion. In addition, Canada has one of the world’s most unique policies on citizenship. Newcomers and immigrants are encouraged that after three years of settlement, and learning the English language, become Canadian citizens. Such policy is recognized as a legitimate and important factor of social inclusion among immigrants and local residents.

Furthermore, Clutterbuck and Novick, (2003) state that Canada attracts “people from every part of the world, who want to come with their families, kids, and talents to live and enrich our communities. Social inclusion is a promise of common membership and equal opportunity for everyone”. A common membership is associated between parents and youths in terms of settlement in a very diverse and multicultural community. It is important to understand that, in a new homeland the household’s feeling of isolation and alienation is linked to awareness of cultural differences and experiences regarding discrimination and racism.

Omidvar and Richmond, (2003) did three different observations about migrants and their integration into the diverse and multicultural community, they indicate; 1) that people are migrating from one place to another, and their experience of inclusion and exclusion may not be the same as their past life. for example; immigrants may move from Islamabad to New York or from New Delhi to Toronto. The first inclusion may be the adaptation of the host country’s first facilities that first come into sight, such as; public transportation, school, and library. Because these are the first matter a newcomer faces. 2) It is also important to know that diversity and inclusion are not the same. One is a demographic reality and the other is a process that leads to equity and equality of opportunity, regardless of when and where you come from. 3) Inclusion does not happen accidentally; it may proceed the intentions and resolutions along with leadership, to realize that a city works for everybody, who is already integrated. Besides these observations of inclusion, scholars also highlight their arguments regarding inclusive cities.

Wali, (2014) states, that an inclusive city is much better than a prosperous city because prosperity is not necessarily inclusive. It is important to know, what is an inclusive city. Omidvar and Richmond, (2003) highlight that an inclusive city is a city, where people have full access to the law in a peaceful environment and democracy, meanwhile, people’s needs should reflect back to them in the shape of policies and practices among local residents. Such arguments are the most important challenge for city leaders to pay attention to deliberate targets and strategies for inclusion. With respect to supporting the above literature, I added a few stories of recently arrived immigrant youths and kids, regarding their social adaptation to the Canadian lifestyle and culture.

1 Social inclusion of kids at a school
Many scholars conducted insightful research regarding newcomer kids’ social inclusion. In the first stage, it is a big challenge for newcomer families and youths to integrate with a new society as they are coming from a different culture. Most Afghan refugees and immigrants don’t speak English or French languages when they arrive in Canada. Therefore, going to school or work is a difficult and huge challenge for them, while the language of communication is different from the language they speak at home. This is common among newcomer youths (male and female), and kids. Omidvar and Richmond, (2003) argue that newcomer youth, who arrived at a young age, has fewer difficulties in the process of adaptation than those who arrived at an older age. Old age people need a longer period of time to adopt the education system and adjust to Canadian social life and cultural values (ibid).

Compare to non-immigrant children, “newcomers encounter additional challenges related to school adaptation and social adjustment due to conflict between home culture and the linguistic mastery of receiving country language” (Oxman-Martinez, chio 2014, p. 24). In addition, Omidvar and Richmond, (2003) state that in Ontario, newcomer children need special help, so, the teacher and school authorities have to develop training and program of intervention to deal with their needs, because newcomers don’t know the new class environment and don’t know the student’s social behaviors. Sometimes, the race and rationalization common components come up and sometimes teachers and students express discrimination, which counts as a significant source of social exclusion (Oxman-Martinez, chio 2014).

However, when newcomers arrive in Canada, they face difficulties in terms of speaking the local language and don’t know how to communicate with other students. Most of the time, such kids observe everything and they are trying to understand it. Sometimes they know the local language but they feel they may say things wrong. But literary they are trying to involve in activities, but unfortunately, they can’t. After a while, they slowly start learning and adapting to the new culture.

I could add my own kid’s experience as an example of social inclusion. In September 2017 my kids arrived in Canada. After a few days, I took them to school. Back home they were in 1st grade. According to TDSB student age rules, they admitted them in the second and third grades. As the 3rd child was 4th year old, they admitted her to kindergarten. They didn’t speak English even a single word, and such an environment was completely new for them, but they were going to school with lots of interest. One day I asked my younger child’s teacher. How is Rabia? Does she participate in the class? Her teacher told me, that she is so quiet and just looks at other students. When they are playing, she looks at them and doesn’t want to participate with other students. After a couple of months, I went to her class to see, what she is going on in her class. As she didn’t know the Canadian culture and language, Compare to other students I find her so quiet. I asked her, why you are not talking and playing with other students. She told me my other classmates are not playing with me and I don’t know their language to talk to them. So, I talked to her teacher and let her know.

After a few months, once again I went to her class and I realized her interaction with other students in the class. I found her more talkative than the other students. This time, her teacher told me that Rabia is a smart student. She is busy all the time with other kids and keeps her class fellows engaged. So, I realized that she adapted to the language which was a barrier for her. Now she is in senior kindergarten. She almost lost her own native language and most of the time she talks in English at home. Besides learning the language, she also adapted to Canadian culture-related issues, for example, she stopped wearing scarf and Afghani clothes. Sometimes at home, she takes the scarf, and later in school, she puts it in her bag pack, which is a positive sign of integration. So, (Omidvar and Richmond’s, 2003) study indicates that anyone who arrived at a young age, has fewer difficulties in the process of adaptation, than those who arrived at an older age. As Rabia was four years old, compared to her other siblings, she learned English in a few months. Her older siblings still facing troubles in terms of speaking English and cultural adaptation.

2 Public libraries are the first hub of Social inclusion:
Public libraries are created to assist newcomers in different parts of Canada. It is important to understand newcomers’ needs, their behaviors, and how they adapt to new cultures. John, Larissa, and Allan, (2018) state that newcomers experience confusion, and look disoriented after arrival in a new country. According to Kim, (2009), the first stage of the newcomers’ integration process usually begins with finding temporary accommodation. During this time newcomers often depend on relatives, friends, or settlement workers (ibid). Such a transitioning period may last up to a year, which depends on factors such as the level of education and the need to learn a new language.

After one year, newcomers start their second stage, settling in and slowly becoming a participating member of society, which allow them to move to more permanent accommodations, seek better employment opportunities or start going back to school. They also need to improve their language proficiency and obtain credentials for their educations earned in their home country; and work experience that may help them for new careers and enrolment in bridging programs. In the third year, newcomers understand, where to find information, as a prerequisite for successful integration. Kennan et al. (2011) argue that strong social connections and network within an ethnic community is beneficial for newcomers. If newcomers restrict their social network to their own ethnic communities, they may fail to develop social connections with the wider community (John, Larissa, and Allan, 2018). From my realistic point of view, public libraries can play a key role in the social lives of newcomers. Kennan et al. (2011) added that public libraries are the meeting hub for newcomer friends and a source of free programs for their children. In addition (John, Larissa, and Allan, 2018) state that public libraries are socially acceptable public meeting places, where newcomers can meet strangers in a safe situation and it may help them to build connections with individuals from other social groups and start feeling, he/she is part of the community.

As an observation, I can add the example of the Thorncliffe Park neighborhood community library. It was 1st March 2014, when I first arrived in Canada. I was living with my friends, and during the day, they were leaving to work. I was staying alone in the apartment. After a few days, I became tired of home and watching TV. Meanwhile, I didn’t have a work permit or any documents. So, I asked my friend, it is difficult to live alone, please tell me, is there any coffee shop where I could go and find someone to talk to or chat with? My friend told me, you can go to the library which is across the road. The next day, when I woke up, I went to the library, and I found the library a crowded place, and different from my home country, Afghanistan. Here people were reading books and talking with each other, and others were working on computers. After exploring the library for a few minutes, I met a Pakistani man, whose name was Shahid Iqbal. I introduced myself and told him I am new to Canada. I don’t know anyone to explore the neighborhood and outside is cold to walk around. He replied, I am also new to Canada, it is my 2nd month. Every day I am coming to the library and searching jobs and read books. So, it was my first step to finding a friend. Then I scheduled the library in my routine, each day I was finding a new friend and telling migration stories to each other. Sometimes, there were community events held by community members. (John, Larissa, and Allan, 2018) states that public libraries possess features that may encourage newcomers for developing generalized trust among each other. So, I found an Afghan taxi driver, and he told me, it is easy to apply for a taxi license. Driving a taxi is an easy job compared to lots of other work. So, I listened to his advice and applied for a taxi license and after an exam, I started driving a taxi. Such an experience was my first inclusion in the community. John, Larissa, and Allan, (2018) argue that public libraries are often described as a social spaces for young newcomers.

Similarly, Kennan et al. (2011), argue regarding South Asian women that, South Asian immigrant women in Toronto relied on friends and ethnic communities for information when their families could not assist them. Women placed more trust in their networks of friends and family than in other information sources. As Afghan family members don’t speak English and need assistance, it is better, if they go to the libraries and ask librarians for help, or to find somebody in the library to help them. However, here in Canada, most Afghan newcomers experience some degree of disorientation, on onboard their new home. At the first point, newcomers have similar social needs during their initial days of migration; they often become regular public library users, visiting branches to access library services (John, Larissa, and Allan, 2018).

3 Cultural Enclaves:
Massey and Denton (1985) highlight that newcomers initially cluster in a neighborhood with a high concentration of other co-ethnics and similar cultural-related people, after socioeconomic improvement, they would move to a better and typically less segregated neighborhood. Alba and Zhang (2002) refer to the information on culture-enclaves as a positive preference for newcomers, and it is an alternative to assimilation for immigrants. Zuchhi’s (2007) research indicates that cultural enclaves of recent newcomers are their place of choice, who wish to be in a predominant area, with speaks a similar language and have access to their own supermarkets for cultural food. Kim, (2009) added that after arrival, immigrants become identified as members of local ethnic communities. Massey and Denton (1985) argue that immigrants’ culture-enclaves can be identified by the physical characteristics of the people who live in them. Kim, (2009) highlights, that in these cultural- enclaves, ethnicity is the social glue that binds people spatially.Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing

As a result, people in cultural enclaves are looking to find neighbors with similar identities, develop their own culture and remember back home. As an observation, I can give the example of the Thorncliffe Park neighborhood, which is a complex of Pakistani, Indian, Greek, Hungarian, Filipino and Afghan immigrants, of whom, the majority are South Asians. But the North American indigenous, Japanese and Korean are the visible minority group of people living in the area (city of Toronto N.P. 2016).

Thorncliffe Park is the first destination for most Afghani people in Toronto. Back home, they don’t say we are living in Toronto, instead, they say we are living in Thorncliffe Park (a park of the people, 2013) because of the socially diverse area, people are thinking that Thorncliffe Park might be a different city than Toronto. (Bain, 2008) added that as “a cultural enclave, the food and people are something to be really proud of in this diverse city”, because of their religious and cultural similarities. Thorncliffe Park is the largest Islamic community in North America. Most of the residents are Muslim and they are serving their own culture, likewise, Thorncliffe Park has no alcohol or pork-related stores. Most fast-food chains such as (Pizza Pizza, Tim Horton’s, Popeye’s, and Chicken and Biscuits, have a business and they serve Halal foods to the residents of the neighborhood (Bain, 2008).Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

A group of residence women by name of the “Thorncliffe Park women community” gathered and focused to make Community Park a public hub, which was the only mate for people to come together and break the barriers. According to a (Bain, 2008) report, a few years ago, the Thorncliffe Park women’s Community opened a cafe in the park. In summer warm weather on Fridays’ people come together and the community fills the Park with hundreds of residents and colorful stalls, selling food and clothes. Most Afghan community members put on their tables and sell verities of brightly colored clothing, as well as Afghan women bake fresh bread in the park, which is a sign of cultural-enclave and social inclusion in the neighborhood (The East York mirror, 2015). Kim, (2009) highlights, that the residential patterning of ethnic groups within cities represents their degree of integration or distinctiveness in society. The common set of understandings among Afghan immigrants is the shared language, religion, social networks, and the exchange of information (ibid). In summer, social Afghan women along with community Pakistani families and kids get together in Park and share their cultural and social identities. Kim, (2009) added that sharing social identities may develop strong attachments among residents in the community. Such kind of multicultural, diverse, and socially connected community, might establish a better future for their kids and other family members.

Barriers to Social inclusion:

The economic barrier of recent immigrants:

One of the best ways of adaptation and inclusion in a new culture is successful participation in the labor market. Such participation is connected to a person’s education level and work skills. Wali, (2014) highlights that Language proficiency (English and French) maybe not as much affect the labor market integration and income level of newcomers as their community involvement. At some point, recent immigrants, experience a high rate of unemployment and underemployment in Canadian society (RSRC, 2017). Both circumstances show a loss, not only to newcomers and their families but also to the Canadian economy as a whole and at the end to all Canadians. Omidvar, (2011) highlights that first-generation newcomers and immigrants may not be catching up with their Canadian-born counterparts within the first ten years of arrival. In addition, newcomers and immigrants are earning less and working longer to take care of their family expenses. Meanwhile, having economical barriers, Afghan refugees are looking for affordable housing and jobs that would match their education and skills level.

Racism and discrimination:

In Canadian society, newcomers and minority groups of Afghan immigrant experience some forms of exclusion and discrimination, related to the migration process and access to public services. Most of the time, social exclusion happens by peers, and sometimes in other ways, such as ethnic discrimination, which happens in classes among students and at work among adults. Sometimes, in the market, employers refuse to hire persons without a regularized immigration status. For example, most refugee claimants are excluded from most government-sponsored employment training programs, because of their status. I am going to quote one of my seminar teacher Freshta’s speeches that, “The immigration Refugees Board of Canada” doesn’t offer placement jobs to permanent residents except for Canadian citizens, which is understood as systemic discrimination. Researches indicate that immigrant students in public school belong to ethnic minority groups, experience negative ethnic stereotypes, and are dismissed academic expectations by their teachers and other staff, because of their ethnic background (Oxman-Martinez, and chio 2014). Racism and discrimination affect immigrants’ social life in the community, born hatred among refugees, and contribute to violence and crimes.

Language barriers:

Back home, Afghan refugees and immigrants speak Pashto and Dari as their official languages, and they don’t speak English or French. After Arrival in Canada, these immigrants face challenges in terms of social integration in the community; which may also place a bad impact on immigrants’ economic situation. Wali, (2014) highlights in his finding, that the language barrier resulted in immigrants’ assimilation, and it is difficult for newcomers to find friends and integrate into the community or at school.


Religion is a big concern among immigrants in terms of integration into Canadian society. There are widespread popular fears among women about wearing headscarves (Burqas) and the building of mosques and funding of Public schools for teaching Islamic subjects. Such religious discrimination prevents the successful adaptation of Afghan newcomers and their children in Canada (Wali, 2014). All public schools have a non-religious curriculum and students are learning Western lifestyles and cultures. Alba and Foner, (2015) highlight that religion is an accepted avenue for immigrants and their children’s inclusion in Canadian society. So, In Toronto, there is no Islamic Public school that newcomers send their kids to They need to send their kids to private madrassas and pay monthly fees, which is not affordable for low-income families.


A sum up, I am quoting (Omidvar, 2011) that she highlights that, “All actors are inclusion actors, such as the postman, the businessman, the librarian, the school teacher, and the neighbor”. At the community level, everyone is interested to integrate and socially keep in touch with other neighbors. But, unfortunately, the majority of Afghan newcomers are facing different types of barriers and challenges that may affect their social and cultural involvement in the neighborhood. It is important for immigrants, particularly Afghan newcomers to keep involved in society and think about removing obstacles and barriers. Most of the barriers are connected to poverty, language proficiency, racism and discrimination, and religion among newcomers and non-immigrants.

Mohammad Shafiq
Student of Ryerson University in Toronto Canada.
Master of Social Science at Karlstad University Sweden.
The content of this article is the personal opinion of the writer and “FVNA” is not bound to agree or disagree with it.