The Halifax dilemma

Illustration: Elizabeth Ranger

Egyptian immigrants find a better life, but also a housing crunch and inaccessible health care 

Coming to Canada from Egypt in 2017, Jasmine Khaled (name changed), her husband, and two children were hoping to find a better life. A friend told them Halifax would be a good place to raise a family. 

“This turned out to be true,” she says. “My son and daughter are very happy here and they have made many friends. They like the flexible school system and the freedom it offers.” 

But moving to Halifax was expensive. When they first arrived, they had to pay $3,000 a month in advance for a small one-bedroom-plus-den apartment in the city. 

“We were told that the apartment would be well furnished and that it would have all amenities. But when we arrived, the place was not what we expected it to be,” Khaled recalls. “It was poorly furnished, and it was too small to accommodate four people.” 

Travelling around the city to find a more suitable home also proved a challenge. “Finding a car for rent was the next hurdle we had to overcome,” she says. 

After searching for many days, the family found a very small apartment available for rent. It was still too small, but they couldn’t be choosy. 

“We had to take it because my children’s school was about to open,” Jasmine says, adding that they lived there for a year before finding a big enough place. 

“Although I got along well with the neighbours and they were helpful, it took me more than a year to make friends.” 

In Egypt, she worked as an architectural engineer, but that experience had little value in Halifax, particularly after a period of not working in the field while immigrating. 

“Because of this three-year gap in my career, no Canadian employer offered me a job in my own field,” she says. “I knew then that it was time to look at other options.” 

Producing local references was a challenge. She started volunteering two days a week in the hope of getting experience and a good reference. The only work she could only get night shifts, which she did for a year and a half. 

Health care is another obstacle. When Jasmine became ill with stomach problems, she had to go on a waiting list for treatment. 

“Weeks and months went by and still I did not receive any help,” she says. “I waited for a year and a half. My condition worsened and finally I had to go to my home country to get the treatment done. I am very worried about my family’s health care.” 

It also seems unlikely her children will be able to get the types of education they want in Canada. 

“My son wants to become a doctor, and my daughter would like to study dentistry,” she says. “But getting admission to these courses in Halifax seems next to impossible. They may have to go to some other country to fulfil their ambitions.” 

She has advice for people who want to immigrate to Canada. 

“Talk to people. Don’t just read articles in glossy magazines about the country,” she says. “Talk to immigrants who have been living here for five to 10 years and get to know what life in Canada is really like. If you have set ideas and are not willing to change, rethink your decision.” 

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