Spare rooms wanted for Syrian refugees arriving in B.C.

November 11, 2015

By Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun |

If you’ve got a spare room or an empty basement suite, the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. wants to hear from you.

With as many as 3,000 Syrian refugees poised to arrive in B.C. before the end of the year, the organization is “bracing” for the “largest refugee influx in the history of the province,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for ISSBC. Although settling the refugees will be challenging, Friesen called it a “bold, humanitarian measure” by the new federal government.

“Securing permanent housing (for the refugees) will be impossible without your help,” Friesen said in his call to the public for action. “We need to turn over every rock in this province to find the housing that will be necessary.”

A sign-up website is now live and has already collected 61 housing offers, 90 volunteer offers and three employment leads, but many, many more are needed, Friesen said.

“It’s an indication of the overwhelming support British Columbians want to provide,” Friesen said.

Volunteers are needed to help the refugees settle in, including things such as taking families to the library or speaking English with them for as little as a few hours a week. They’re particularly looking for trauma counsellors to volunteer their time, because about one-third of the refugees are expected to have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Syrian refugees are expected to settle mostly in Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster and Vancouver, although some Syrian refugees who have already arrived are living in Delta and Richmond, Friesen said.

The mayor of Coquitlam, a Surrey city councillor and Vancouver’s deputy mayor were on hand to join the call to action. Surrey alone is expecting as many as 500 children and youths younger than 19, a number that will put pressure on schools in that growing city.

Surrey Coun. Judy Villaneuve urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive a requirement that refugees repay loans for airfare and medical exams, which can add up to as much as $10,000 for a family.

“This puts a huge financial burden (on refugees) … and further impoverishes them,” Villaneuve said.

The sign-up website is at There is also a toll-free phone number 1-844-447-9742 and an email address

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