After arriving in Canada, Syrian refugees still stuck in limbo

January 12, 2016

By Justin Hunter, Globe and Mail |

Small children are running through the corridors of a Vancouver hotel with energy to burn. They are among the 38 Syrian families that arrived here on Dec. 28 to a warm reception when they were directed to wait for government officials to help them settle into their new homes.

More than two weeks later, they are still waiting, anxiously, to begin their lives in Canada.

In a crowded hotel room, Shadi Alradi recounts how his family fled Syria to escape war. Like many others in this group, he spent several years in and around Jordan’s refugee camps before making his way to Vancouver. “We are hoping for a good future here in Canada,” he said through an interpreter.

Each of the families interviewed expressed gratitude to Canadians and to the government that brought them there. But the anxiety of how they will begin to resettle is palpable. They cannot look for housing, enroll their children in school or find English-language classes as they sit in a bureaucratic limbo. The cash allowance they were given for food is disappearing quickly in this expensive downtown neighbourhood.

“This is where we are today. We need someone to help us – we are nowhere,” Mr. Alradi said.

At their first stop in Toronto, they were greeted with meals and winter clothing. The next day, the group of government-assisted refugees – 189 people in all, including 117 children – landed in Vancouver. A team met them to help them with initial paperwork, and they were dropped off at a West End hotel with a modest amount of cash to purchase food and supplies.

An appointment with an immigration official has been postponed, twice. Instead of reaching the end of a long and harrowing journey, they are immobilized, unable to find their new homes somewhere on the other side of the hotel window.

The food allowance for government-assisted refugees during short-term, temporary stays in hotels is $10 a day for each adult and a one-time flat fee of $50 for each child, no matter how long they stay. One father produced a handful of receipts for medicine prescribed for his young daughter who is ill. Although he did not have to pay the full amount, the $22 bill consumed a large portion of the family’s remaining cash. He is fearful about what will happen when the money runs out.

Jenny Kwan, the New Democratic Party immigration critic, said the Canadian government needs to ensure the resources are in place to make this transition successful.

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