Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Margaret Walton-Roberts

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Every day hundreds of newcomers begin a new life in Canada. Some are refugees fleeing persecution, others come to join family, and yet others (mostly the economic and independent categories) are seeking to make a better life for themselves. In all, since 2000 around 250,000 people have settled in Canada each year. Their backgrounds and personal histories may be widely different and each one’s experience on arrival is unique. The communities across Canada into which they integrate differ too in their character and in the manner in which they receive newcomers. For many new Canadians, there are, nevertheless, certain shared experiences, as they make a home for themselves in this country. They must find somewhere to live and a job, familiarize themselves with a different society and culture, make a new network of friends and acquaintances and often learn a new language. In the process, they may experience success—but also alienation, loneliness, frustration, xenophobia and racism. Refugees often face particular challenges in adapting partly because their arrival was not planned or a matter of choice, but a matter of survival. They may be deeply traumatized by their past experiences. They often arrive separated from their immediate families whom they have had to leave behind, perhaps in the country of origin or in a refugee camp elsewhere.

This thesis is based on research on Afghan newcomer refugees in two second-tier Ontario cities—Kitchener and Waterloo. The study involves assessing the settlement challenges of a sub-population that I refer to as one the most vulnerable groups for they share characteristics that render them vulnerable—refugee newcomers from smaller ethnic groups that are visible and linguistic minorities. This research followed their everyday activity patterns for one week utilizing a novel form of passive tracking based on GPS technology and an internet based prompted recall diary system. The main question this thesis examines is how effective the service provision and social network systems in KW are in assisting refugee newcomers with their immediate and long term needs. This includes how the daily activity patterns of newcomers are influenced by the social system in which they interact with both strong ties—families, friends, ethnic groups, and weak ties—co-ethnic service providers, community and municipal services. It also provides an assessment of the specific barriers Afghan newcomer refugees face in their efforts to make their settlement a successful experience, and the alternatives they seek in an attempt to overcome these barriers. The research finds that for a number of reasons, such as language difficulty and issues related to using transportation, access to settlement services continues to be a key concern of this group of newcomers. The research reveals how various service barriers become interrelated; this is particularly evident in relation to the challenges posed by transportation and how this compounds problems with access to medical services.

Convocation Year