News / Vancouver

Syrian refugees hit 1-year anniversary of Canadian arrival

Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says it is disappointed the Canadian government is accepting fewer refugees next year

Syrian refugees Yossra Almahameed, Alaa Almahameed, and their daughters Reemas and Reetaj sit next to Mohammad Alsaleh (right) who translated their words to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Syrian refugees Yossra Almahameed, Alaa Almahameed, and their daughters Reemas and Reetaj sit next to Mohammad Alsaleh (right) who translated their words to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Refugee support groups say they are ready to welcome the same number of or even more refugees in 2017 as many Syrian refugees pass the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Canada.

About 2,100 government-assisted refugees have arrived in British Columbia since the Canadian government promised to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees in November 2015.

B.C. can expect another 299 refugees before the end the year, according to Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC).

It has been a rewarding 12 months, he said.

“The outpouring of support and help and the level of collaboration between the different level of governments, faith communities, health authorities, private sector was unparalleled in our history in working with history over the past 45 years – unparalleled.”

But with the vast majority of B.C. allocated refugees going to the Lower Mainland, resettlement service providers struggled at first to accommodate everyone, especially large families. There weren’t enough resources for children, for example, said Friesen.

“We didn’t realize that 50 per cent of Syrian [refugees] would be under the age of 12,” he said.

“Subsequently now, over the last few months, we now have children programming at all of our temporary sites.”

Mohammed Asaleh of the ISSBC (right) translated for Alaa and Yossra Almahameed (seen here with daughters Reemas and Reetaj) during the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's visit on Sept. 25, 2016.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Mohammed Asaleh of the ISSBC (right) translated for Alaa and Yossra Almahameed (seen here with daughters Reemas and Reetaj) during the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's visit on Sept. 25, 2016.

Large families were also more difficult to house in large urban centres like Vancouver. The majority of government-assisted refugees in B.C. have settled in Surrey, according to Friesen.

A ISSofBC report that will be released Friday states Syrian refugees are waiting as many as 11 months for a seat in English language classes, he said.

“Learning English and or French is key to social and economic integration. That’s an area that we’re continuing to raise with the federal government – targeting resources, particularly in the City of Surrey.”

The past year has made refugee support groups even better at their job, said Friesen. But the Canadian government announced in October it would be accepting 28 per cent fewer refugees in 2017.

Friesen says he is disappointed with the decision, especially because there is a backlog of private refugee sponsorship applications.

“We are in a very unique situation here where the rest of the world is rolling up the welcome mat and building fences and walls to refugees,” he said.

“We’ve got increased capacity, we’ve got increased collaboration on the ground. It’s disappointing that we’re now going back to pre-2015 targets.”

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