Desire to help refugees is only the first step

October 7, 2015

By Vancouver Sun |

British Columbians commendably have demonstrated a strong desire to assist those displaced by Syria’s civil war. But far more is involved than mere good intentions.

The Vancouver-based Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of B.C. is candidly warning: “the outpouring of public interest in refugee sponsorship raises several concerns for us.

“We do not believe the public fully understands their rights and responsibilities, along with the mental toll it can take to work intensely with a refugee family, which includes often very traumatized family members.”

Moreover, based on information from the organization, costs to the public associated with extending help could be daunting.

The group is warning that half or more of the newcomers may have mental health problems linked to violence they have witnessed or experienced personally.

Treatment will involve a comprehensive approach among government ministries and community facilities that are unlikely to be available beyond the Metro Vancouver area. Indeed, average British Columbians occasionally are hard-pressed to access such specialized services.

Psychiatrists and interpreters will be needed. Pharmacare funding must be made available, and language-training resources will be required in schools and the community.

Past psychological assessments of Syrian refugees who fled to Germany showed more than a quarter reported being unable to cope with daily living, or were so angry, nothing could calm them down.

Perhaps anticipating the Syrians’ significant level of need, Premier Christy Clark last month announced a special $1-million fund to help with their resettlement in B.C.

And Vancouver next June will host the opening of a New Welcome House on Victoria Drive, a special 138-bed resource offering temporary housing and targeted services to refugees and immigrants.

According to the ISS, this province takes in about 600 government-assisted refugees a year, more than half of which settle in Surrey and Coquitlam. Only 11 per cent settle in Vancouver, down from 16 per cent a few years ago because of the city’s lack of affordable housing. (Shelter allowance for a refugee couple with two children is about $700 a month.

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