Avalanche of refugees about to hit B.C.

February 19, 2016

By Tara Carmen and Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun |

British Columbia is to receive 1,100 Syrian refugees in the next 10 days, effectively doubling the number already here.

It will be the largest influx of government-assisted refugees to this province, said Chris Friesen, settlement services director with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Almost half the arrivals will be moved outside Metro Vancouver, which is unprecedented for government-assisted refugees to B.C., because Metro has been the only region of the province with the necessary supports in place.

About 240 will go to Victoria, designated last week as an alternative arrival city for refugees, and another 160 to Abbotsford, Friesen said. About 30 each will go to Nanaimo, Prince George, Kelowna and Vernon, he added.

Friesen and other Immigrant Services Society staff will be on the road early next week, training settlement workers in those cities to deal with the coming arrivals.

“It’s organized craziness,” Friesen said.

Abbotsford Community Services Society began planning for the arrival of Syrian refugees in October, said Manpreet Grewal, the society’s director of multicultural and immigrant services. They had expected to assist privately sponsored refugees being brought to Abbotsford by many church groups.

However, the government-assisted refugees, due to start arriving Monday, pose an additional challenge because they don’t have the financial supports of a community sponsoring group.

Housing is the biggest issue, Grewal said. They Syrian families tend to be large, and the government support rates aren’t enough to rent accommodation large enough to house them, especially in pricey Metro Vancouver.

“We say we are being magnanimous and inviting these people in. Yes, we are bringing them out here and they are safe. But it’s very hard. The rates make it impossible,” she said.

The society has been collecting addresses of likely rental spots, including basement suites, which are more affordable.

Society staff has also been in touch with physicians to help line up medical care for the families, Grewal said.

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