Arabic speakers find more than books at Surrey facilities

Immigrants unfamiliar with North American culture and possessing minimal English skills discover living in Metro Vancouver is comprised of many insurmountable practical tasks. In Surrey, Options Community Services assists immigrants with these tasks and acquaints them with North American culture through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Settlement Program.

The program branched out in 2011, placing settlement workers at local libraries and recreation centers at established days and times throughout the week. Gurrinder Roy, program manager of the settlement program at Options, explains Options’ “reciprocal relationship” with libraries and recreation centers enables Options to make their services more accessible to clients. In turn, these community centers gain new patrons who might otherwise struggle to access their services because of the language barrier.

A comprehensive program for a burgeoning community

According to Statistics Canada, between 2006 and 2011, Arabs were the fastest growing minority group in Surrey (+80.9%). In 2011, Arabic was the mother tongue of 2,930 Surrey residents.

Suzan Anbari, Option’s Arabic and English speaking settlement worker, holds her outreach hours at Surrey City Centre Library and Guildford Recreation Centre (where Arab communities in Surrey are concentrated).

Anbari emigrated from Syria 14 years ago to study and work in better economic conditions. Anbari tells The Source her transition into North American life was much smoother than most of her clients’, chiefly because she had studied English while at university in Syria.

“Lots of my clients speak no English whatsoever. Whatever letter they get by mail, they will run to me and say, ‘What is this?’ –
‘Don’t worry!’ I say,” explains Anbari.

Anbari says she translates her clients’ letters frequently. She struggles to find a place to start in listing some of the other services she provides.

“Everything. Anything they need to settle and start their new life, we will help them out with it. Everything,” says Anbari. “Housing, banking, social services, school, medical, applications for anything, applications for citizenship, for child care subsidy, BC Housing, the job search, the native culture in the workplace or in general.”

Anbari adds some of her other primary services include connecting her clients to programs and events occurring within the city and orientating them to the library and computers.

85 per cent of Option's Arabic clients are from Iraq. Options also has clients from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria.

85 per cent of Option’s Arabic clients are from Iraq. Options also has clients from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria.

A mission to settle down

The vast majority of Options’ Arabic clients are from Iraq, with some from countries such as Syria, Egypt and Jordan as well. Ninety one per cent are refugees.

Addi Zeto, one such refugee, emerged from the volatile environments: those of Iraq, his home country, and Syria. He arrived in Canada 1.4 years ago.

“Canadians are very supportive, so they helped me – they helped us when we struggled to speak English,” says Zeto (through Anbari’s translation).

Now, Zeto envisions a future in Canada.

“I consider it my home country – as my father, mother, everything,” says Zeto.

Zeto, although currently employed, is searching for the best way to become established in Canada; and visits Anbari because he wonders if he might find it in Prince George.

“[Anbari] gave me more information about [Prince George], about life there and it opened my eyes to the opportunities there. Now, I know more about it and I believe I have more options than just staying and struggling in Vancouver,” says Zeto.

New beginnings through Options

Anbari and Roy have seen many immigrants helped through Options.

Roy references the new Meeting Employers series (eight sessions) where 26 immigrants were hired.

“There are people who have found jobs and they are happy with their jobs and they go to English classes. I know it is a hard job but it is rewarding at the same time when [the clients] come and say: ‘I’m very thankful you told me about this,’” says Anbari.

Currently, Options has Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Punjabi, Somali, Arabic and Tagalog speaking settlement workers and provides translation and interpretation services for the less widely spoken languages in Surrey as well.


The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Settlement Program is available to Permanent Residents in Surrey and North Delta. Find out more about this and many other programs that Options offers by visiting: