Refugee families go ice skating for the first time

December 21, 2017

By Nick Eagland, Vancouver San |

For many refugees, one of their first stops upon arriving in B.C. is the “Welcome Centre” at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. in Vancouver.

The non-profit society prides itself on introducing families fleeing violence, persecution and corruption to a better life in Canada. On Wednesday, it brought 40 recent arrivals to Rogers Arena for a night of ice skating and holiday cheer.

With Christmas music echoing through the almost-empty arena, the first-time skaters laughed and grinned from ear to ear as they slipped, fell and glided across the ice.

Some were naturals in skates while others clung to the shoulders and hands of ISS of B.C. volunteers and locals, who had come to show them a little bit about what it means to be Canadian. After pizza and snacks for dinner, even Santa Claus came to say hello.

Mike Magee, organizer of the “first skate,” said the event — in its second year — is a fun, important way of introducing refugees to a new culture.

“What could be a better Canadian experience than coming out on the ice at Rogers Arena and learning how to skate?,” said Magee, former chief of staff at the Vancouver mayor’s office and a longtime supporter of the ISS of B.C.

“It’s really important to give them a super-positive experience and connect them with people that are longtime residents and citizens, and just show them a good, warm Canadian welcome.”

Most of the new skaters came from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, said Elmir Ismayilov, an ISS of B.C. community connections coordinator.

Ismayilov said his society strives to introduce them to activities that will add some fun to the daunting task of learning a new language, moving into a new neighbourhood and fitting into Canadian society.

“This is their new life and this is their new home, and this is important as part of cultural integration — feeling new community, feeling that they are in a place where everything is inclusive,” he said.

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