Surrey program tackles ‘huge gaps’ in support for Syrian refugee mental health

June 8, 2016

By Catherine Rolfsen, CBC News |

When Syrian refugee Mohamad Alorfi fled to Jordan, he lived under the constant threat of being caught working illegally by police.

“Just because you saw a policeman, you have to run away, because they always raise us on fear,” the father of seven explains through an interpreter.

Which is why the mere sight of a police station in his new home of Surrey left him struggling to breathe.

That is, until Alorfi learned a deep breathing technique at an innovative new program in Surrey to help Syrian refugees cope with past trauma.

“When I remember the past, I use this method,” he said, demonstrating by taking a long, slow inhale. “I do this trick to get over it.”

Alorfi and his family are among about 20 Syrian refugees participating in a five-week group session that deals with settlement issues “through a trauma lens,” according to Corina Carroll, the manager of counselling services at Diversecity Community Resources Society.

The program is funded by the United Way, and is a first step in alleviating what Carroll describes as a “huge gap” in serving Syrian refugees’ mental health needs.

‘A real policy problem’

ISSofBC says that most Syrian refugees will be able to cope with their trauma without major interventions, and there’s no reason to believe that Alorfi and his family aren’t in that category.

But advocates and settlement workers say there is inadequate federal and provincial funding to ensure refugees who need it, get ongoing mental health support.

“We have a real policy problem in this country when it comes to refugee mental health,” said Dylan Mazur, the executive director of the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture.

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