Immigrant Services Society of B.C. opens new welcome centre in Surrey

posted on May 1, 2019

By Vancouver Sun |

When Yousef Al Horani woke up in the hospital in early 2013 he had no idea where he was or how he got there.

The last thing he remembered, he was still in the Syrian prison where he had been held and tortured for almost a year after he and two dozen others were inexplicably rounded up on the street and arrested.

“Basically, all types of tortures that you think of, we got it daily. Terrible things,” Al Horani said, his words translated by an Arabic-speaking settlement worker at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISS of B.C.).

Doctors told him that strangers had found his body on a pile of trash outside the prison. When they realized he was alive and that he had no identification, the strangers took him to a private hospital.

During the three months it took him to recover, Al Horani planned his escape, because he knew if government security forces found him he would be sent back to prison. He found out from a relative that his wife and five children had fled to Jordan while he was imprisoned, and paid a smuggler to take him there.

Four years later, Al Horani’s family immigrated to Canada and settled in Metro Vancouver, where they plan to stay for the long-term. “Basically, there is no life there,” he said of Syria. “In Canada there is security, it is stable, it is safe, government is supportive, there is good education, health care — there is no comparison.”

As a government-assisted refugee, one of Al Horani’s first points of contact was with ISS of B.C., a non-profit organization that has provided support for immigrants and refugees since 1972, and serves more than 20,000 clients each year at 16 sites in Metro and elsewhere in the province.

The group helped Al Horani’s wife, Walaa Abu Al Roz, find a job at a restaurant, translated documents and navigated them through government bureaucracy. Sherwan Azad, Al Horani’s settlement worker, is now helping him reapply for a child benefit and working to get Al Horani’s wheelchair fixed or replaced. He uses a wheelchair because of the torture he endured.

“Basically, any problems that they face or have been facing in the past, they come here and we try to solve it by ourselves or direct them to the right agency or people to get help,” Azad said.

ISS of B.C. will officially open its new welcome centre, which began operations in January, in Surrey on Thursday.

The centre replaces an office the organization had in Newton, and offers settlement and refugee-claimant services; career, youth-in-tech and self employment programs; supports for parents and women; a clinic; trauma counselling; and Francophone resources.

“We try to really offer a range of services, because we’ve learned from experience that’s what newcomers want, when they can come under one roof and access a number of services,” said Ewa Karczewska, general manager at the Surrey welcome centre.

She said they chose Surrey as the location of the new welcome centre because the city is growing quickly, and it’s a popular place for immigrants to settle.

According to the 2016 census, 43 per cent of Surrey’s population identified as immigrants, up 17 per cent from 2011. The city is home to the second-largest immigrant population in Metro.

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