Surrey home to almost half of B.C.’s Syrian refugees

June 10, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

More Syrian refugees than expected have settled in Surrey, despite efforts by Ottawa and Victoria to send more of them outside the Lower Mainland, figures from the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. reveal.

Just under half (44 per cent) of the nearly 1,700 government-assisted Syrian refugees who have arrived in the province since November have settled in Surrey. That is up from 22 and 23 per cent of all the incoming refugees to B.C. who settled in Surrey in 2014 and 2015, according to Chris Friesen, settlement services director for the Immigrant Services Society.

Coquitlam and Burnaby each typically receive around 20 per cent of the province’s refugees, but just 10 per cent of the newly arrived Syrians have settled in Coquitlam and six per cent in Burnaby. Only five per cent have settled in the City of Vancouver.

The figures, provided by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. and the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria, do not include privately sponsored refugees because those organizations have no role in housing them.

Almost all the government-assisted Syrian refugees who arrived between December and February have been permanently housed, with just a handful of families remaining in hotels in Metro Vancouver, Abbotsford and Victoria.

The heavier-than-expected influx into Surrey, where many Syrian refugees are attracted by relatively cheaper housing prices and a growing Middle Eastern community in the Guildford area, has resulted in months-long waiting lists for support services.

Administrators at two Surrey-based settlement agencies both say their front-line workers are overwhelmed by the demand.

“There’s definitely the overwhelm around … more and more needs, and there’s not enough time in the day or programming available to meet the needs,” said Tahzeem Kassam of DIVERSEcity community resources society.

DIVERSEcity has 298 people on its waiting list for English classes, 49 of whom are Syrian refugees, Kassam said. Waiting lists can be up to a year for basic-level classes and for people who need child care in order to attend, she added.

Waiting lists are similarly long for the Moving Ahead program, which provides wraparound support services for refugees identified by outreach workers as particularly vulnerable due to past trauma, disabilities, or a lack of formal education. There have been 60 Syrian refugee referrals to the program since late February, of which 33 are now on a waiting list, Kassam said, in addition to another 20 non-Syrian refugees also on the waiting list.

Read more


Back