B.C. ‘better prepared’ for new wave of refugees

posted on September 6, 2016

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun |

The B.C. government and settlement groups are bracing for a new wave of roughly 1,500 government-assisted refugees from the Middle East before the end of this year.

By Peter O’Neil, Vancouver Sun |

The B.C. government and settlement groups are bracing for a new wave of roughly 1,500 government-assisted refugees from the Middle East before the end of this year.

Another 750 privately-sponsored newcomers to the region are expected before next spring.

That rough estimate of 2,250, provided Tuesday by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., compares with the more than 3,000 government and privately-sponsored Syrian refugees welcomed to the province since the program began in November of 2015.

The national total is slightly over 30,000.

B.C.’s welcoming committee is expected to be much more efficient compared to the rush-rush approach after Justin Trudeau’s Liberals launched the federal program soon after winning October’s election.

Everything from donated furniture, housing and social services to welcome baskets and etiquette advice are on standby when the flow renews starting later this month.

“We have a well-oiled machine,” ISSofBC spokesman Chris Friesen said in an interview Tuesday.

In an interview last week Jobs Minister Shirley Bond also expressed confidence that there will be fewer ripples as the new stream is absorbed.

“The organizations that have worked hard to receive our refugees have done an exceptional job, communities have been gracious,” Bond said. “There have been some challenges. I think we’ve learned some lessons and I think we are as prepared as we can be to receive another group of Syrian refugees.”

All but 300 of the 1,500 government-assisted refugees are destined for Metro Vancouver, while the remainder will be sprinkled throughout the B.C. Interior and Vancouver Island.

The majority are from war-ravaged Syria, though roughly 350 of the 1,500 come from countries like Iraq and Eritrea.

One of the primary issues remains housing, and the B.C. Muslim Association is urging its members across the province to help find accommodation in less expensive areas outside Metro Vancouver.

This is particularly important for large Syrian families that can number in the 10-13 range, said association spokesman Shawkat Hasan.

He said his Arabic-speaking members are poised to help newcomers handle the inevitable culture shock and adapt to Canadian laws and social customs.

Men in particular are being advised to not smoke in public places, not shout even if it’s normal and culturally acceptable in their homelands, not hit spouses or children, and not leer at or whisper when they see Canadian women in short skirts, he said.

“We tell them, ‘you are here in a different country, a different culture, and you have to accept this since you are being provided with safety and a safety net to come here and live and look after your kids,’ ” he said.

“So you have to abide by the rules here in this country.’ And most of them appreciate that I warn them, but sometimes there are misunderstandings.”

Friesen said the entire B.C. settlement sector is now more experienced and has built up a “vastly” more advanced network used to locate permanent housing and set up social services and support systems in areas such as health care and banking.

He also praised the B.C. education ministry for producing a resource guide for teachers, covering issues that a Canadian teacher wouldn’t normally face.

For instance, a Syrian child who has been traumatized by bombing might react far more strongly if an unexpected fire alarm goes off, he said.

“Children are children, they’re settling really well into the school system,” he said. “But some have experienced trauma, and this is exhibited in different ways. So some require support.”

Friesen also praised Ottawa for acting on advice to reduce the number of large families that have required up to four hotel rooms for temporary housing.

And Hassan said the government is no longer flying in charters filled only with refugees.

Instead, smaller numbers are coming in regularly on commercial flights, making for less of a shock to the system.

“Hotels were not prepared for that. There were quite a number of complaints,” he said. “Now we’re taking in 10 to 15 families at a time. When we had 100 families that was too much.”

The Muslim Association of B.C. said it remains well-financed after having raised $400,000 at a dinner in Vancouver last year.

Twitter: poneilinottawa

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