Tiny numbers despite big expectations, at least until now. Since the Federal Government announced its plan to welcome 2,700 Syrian refugees in British Columbia, only 300 to 500 government-sponsored people have made it from the refugee camps to Western Canada. These are rough numbers that Rahim Othman, spokesperson of the Syrian Canadian Council, shared with The Source. But a big wave of arrivals is expected to come in the next few weeks, and the challenge to help them to settle down will be harder.
Muslims, Alawis, Druzes, Christians. People from all the Syrian ethnic groups arrived, especially during the last three weeks of December, and more are expected to make it in the next 30 days. Despite the different causes that turned them into refugees, they all have to find their way to start a new life once they land in British Columbia.
A new beginning
“They come with the fear of the unknown, and that is normal. They know that they have left their own country for their lives and the lives of their kids,” says Othman.
The Syrian community of B.C., which includes around 2,500, is playing a big role in helping them.
“They are very excited. They are providing food hampers and hygiene kits and simply socializing with them. We are working on organizing reception days that will help the refugees to integrate here,” says Othman.
Othman also brings up the challenge that language poses for a lot of the refugees, as the majority speak little to no English. Another difficulty will be finding permanent accommodation for the refugees, which is difficult in Vancouver because of the high housing prices.
A good recipe for newcomers
MOSAIC, a multilingual non-profit organization dedicated to addressing issues that affect immigrants and refugees has found a good recipe to help newcomers settle in: the Tibetan model.
The non-profit organization has helped over 200 Tibetan refugees integrate in B.C. with what they call “sustainable community building.” They bridge sponsors, potential employers and financial institutions to help these people get status in Canada and have a smooth transition from their old situation. As their experience with the Tibetan community has been successful, they are replicating this model with the Syrian refugees that are arriving in Vancouver.
By the end of February they expect to assist around 200 privately sponsored refugees. MOSAIC works closely with those sponsors to make the whole process more fluid.
“We support private sponsors from the moment they submit their application to bring in refugees with all the background information that they need,” says Saleem Spindari, manager of Community Outreach and Advocacy programs at MOSAIC.
Spindari says they are suggesting that sponsors bring in refugees that already have family in B.C. in order to make the transition an easier one.
With this kind of support, the shock of being transferred from a refugee camp in the Middle East to a completely different reality is less dramatic.
“People that arrive here are really happy and grateful for the opportunity that they receive. Nevertheless they are concerned about their relatives that are still in the camps,” says Spindari.