Syrian refugees in Victoria, BC

Canada last year made a commitment to bring 25,000 of Syria’s 4.5 million refugees to the country as immigrants. The 25,000 target was met in early 2016, and 30,862 Syrian refugees are now in Canada. This is a small number compared to the total number of refugees, but large compared to the 10,000 number of the USA, which attained this low target only in August of 2016. The US population is ten times larger than that of Canada, yet Canada has brought in three times as many refugees.

The small city of Victoria, BC (metropolitan population 345,000) has warmly welcomed 154 Syrian refugees (40 families). Some of the refugees are supported by Canada’s federal government, others by private sponsors such as churches, temples and mosques. There is no discrimination by religion. Jewish temples, for example, proudly sponsor Muslim refugees.

There has been little press coverage in Canada of this influx of Syrian refugees, a reflection of the fact that resettlement is taking place peacefully, without incidents. The initial flood of refugee support has unfortunately slowed, however, precisely because refugees rarely feature in the news. For this reason, I was pleased to see publication in a Victoria newspaper of a plea for more sponsors of refugees.

[Jean McRae, CEO of the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria] explained language is a significant issue for the newcomers.

“Without a working knowledge of English, it’s hard for them to find employment, and the children, who have already had significant disruptions in their education, find it difficult to catch up in a new language,” said McRae, adding the stellar work of the school system and volunteers in providing help with English education has helped to address the situation.

“We also run workshops on the Canadian workplace, teaching the refugees how to look for work, prepare a resume, reply to online job offerings and even how to handle interviews. It’s a completely different culture, and we know that getting them here was just the beginning of the work that needs to be done.” ….

The commitment of the government and private sponsors has been to provide housing and support for one year, noted McRae, adding that, for some, it may not be reasonable to expect full self sufficiency at the end of that time.

“Of course, we’ll stay in touch with them beyond the first year and help where we can. But I can tell you these people are quite amazing and I have no doubt they’ll soon find their way to becoming self sufficient and contributing residents to Victoria.”

Tim Collins, “Sponsors still needed for many more Syrian refugees“, Victoria News, 7 October 2016.

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