Hundreds of refugees set to arrive in Victoria

It’s an exciting time for the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria as it’s getting set to welcome hundreds of Syrian refugees.

It’s an exciting time for the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria as it’s getting set to welcome hundreds of Syrian refugees by the end of the month.

The association, which provides settlement services to refugees and newcomers, announced last week it will welcome 290 government-assisted refugees to Greater Victoria by the end of February.

As part of the federal Resettle Assistance Program (RAP), the association, in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross and United Way Greater Victoria, will provide direct support and access to essential services for new refugees.

Since December, Victoria has welcomed 28 privately-sponsored refugees (five families and one single person) and raised more than $1 million to help them resettle.

Now, the association is getting set to welcome the most refugees they’ve received in recent years — with many coming in batches in a matter of days.

Intercultural association executive director Jean McRae said they’re ready for the influx and it’s something they’ve been preparing for months.

“We have seen an incredible response from the community,” McRae said, adding they will likely resettle more refugees by the end of the year.

“I’ve felt for a long time that Victoria has the capacity, as a community, to welcome both privately-sponsored and government-assisted refugees and now we’re getting the opportunity to prove just how ready we are to be a welcoming and inclusive community around this group.”

Many of the refugees that will resettle in Victoria are from Jordan and Lebanon, and have lived in refugee camps for more than two years, while others have been living in places like Beirut.

When refugees initially arrive, they will be put in temporary housing — usually hotels — for a few weeks as they get settled. The association will also provide orientation services and help them connect with basic services such as setting up bank accounts.

Then comes the more difficult task of finding permanent housing to accommodate the families.

According to McRae, they’re already been in contact with a number of landlords, housing groups and developers to find appropriate housing.

But pressure to house the refugees will not rest solely with Victoria. If the association cannot find accommodation for all the refugees, some will be relocated up Island to Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville, Comox or Campbell River, where there are other resettlement agencies.

“Because there’s other refugees heading into those communities, we feel that is a viable option,” McRae said.

After several weeks, refugees will then transition to regular settlement services, such as language and cultural orientations. Support for trauma and health issues will also be provided.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is excited the first government-assisted refugees will be coming to the capital region.

“It will be great to welcome those refugees to Vancouver Island. I know there is a lot of community support and interest already,” she said. “The city will play whatever role it can to support and welcome people when they arrive.”

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February. Over the next few weeks, communities in British Columbia will see roughly 2,200 Syrian refugees, well above the 1,600 to 1,700 refugees they generally receive in an entire year.

To volunteer or to provide housing visit icavictoria.org.