Mass migration in the face of natural and human-induced disasters has grown into one of the major urban resilience challenges of the 21st century. We examine forced displaced communities and look at migration as a powerful opportunity for building community resilience using two case studies — Beirut, Lebanon and Vancouver, Canada. Both cities offer different approaches and responses to some of the most challenging urban resilience issues: forced displacement from home communities and respect for their cultural needs, mass migration and city response plans (shelter, work, play), acceptance, and assimilation.
In Lebanon the flood of refugees across a shared border has created a displaced and marginalized Syrian community that is surviving through informal coping mechanisms and strategies that sustain livelihoods despite being spatially confined and atypically clustered in informal and temporary living spaces with little sensitivity to cultural customs.
In far-distant Vancouver, several thousand Syrian refugees arrived between 2015 and 2018 under a federal government assisted resettlement (GAR) program strongly supported by the Canadian people. Immigration plays a key role in Canadian culture. Upon arrival, most Syrian GAR families desired, and were placed in neighbourhoods of similar ethnic backgrounds and languages with shared cultural customs and experiences.
In both Beirut and Vancouver, the emphasis on place as a cultural resilience mechanism implies that one central component of the experience of migration is the role of the physical environment or landscape. Syrians forced to migrate to both neighboring and distant countries are building relationships with the new places they live in by shaping new spaces and landscapes that embody both past memories and new emotional experiences. There is much to learn from Syrian mass migration that can inform building community resilience for disaster risk reduction – whether human-induced disasters such as economic meltdowns and climate change, or natural disasters of all types.