B.C. begins preparing for expected influx of Syrian refugees

November 16, 2015

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

Educators, health providers, immigrant services and regional and provincial officials met in a Burnaby hotel Monday to prepare for the possible arrival in B.C. of thousands of Syrian refugees by year’s end.

Chris Friesen, with Immigrant Services Society of B.C., sparked the meeting to help co-ordinate the first six to 12 weeks after the newcomers’ arrival, a period of time that will test regional readiness.

The exact number of refugees B.C. will receive and where they will be sent is expected to be released later this week as part of the federal Syrian refugee plan. Provincial officials have said they are preparing for 2,700 to 3,000 new arrivals.

The overwhelming majority of refugees typically settle in the Lower Mainland — mostly Surrey, Coquitlam and Burnaby — due to the availability of translators, English classes and culturally sensitive outreach services, among other things.

But B.C. Premier Christy Clark said she hopes some of the new Syrian arrivals will be sent elsewhere in the province, to areas where housing is less expensive and businesses are in need of workers.

“We want to make sure that the refugees that we welcome in British Columbia have the best chance of success possible, and for some of them, that’ll mean settling outside the Lower Mainland where they can afford a home, where they can be perhaps in a smaller community and where there are plentiful jobs in the job market for people who want to settle there,” she said, answering questions from reporters at an appearance in Delta on Monday.

But Friesen said while there is willingness to take in refugees outside the Lower Mainland, other regions are not ready to receive them.

“These refugees are not temporary foreign workers. They are future Canadian citizens who have been identified on the basis of their vulnerability and their need for protection and resettlement in this country. It’s not to say that they may not — in the future — be destined outside of the Lower Mainland, but the initial support … has to be put in place. It will not be put in place (elsewhere in the province) in two weeks, when we estimate the first flights will begin arriving.”

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called on the federal government to put its Syrian refugee relocation plan on hold Monday, arguing officials will need more time to conduct sufficiently rigorous security screenings.

Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Shirley Bond, who oversees the provincial aspects of refugee resettlement, said she was assured by federal Immigration Minister John McCallum there is a “significant plan in place” around security screenings.

Clark agreed that “security for Canadians has to come first” and that it is the responsibility of the federal government to ensure screening processes are working.

“Having said that, though, I understand the urgency that people are feeling about inviting these people who are from one of the worst war-torn countries, regions, in the world, who are facing the kind of violence every day that unfolded in Paris over the weekend … As Canadians, as compassionate people who have prosperity to share, we want to make sure that we open our doors to give them somewhere safe to live as soon as we can, but knowing that everyone who comes has been properly screened.”

Friesen said he sees the reception of Syrian refugees as a defining moment of this generation.

“People growing up now will look back and say, ‘well, I remember when the Syrians came to Canada,’ just as my generation recall when we opened up our homes to Vietnamese and other southeast Asian refugees,” he said.

Read more