A Syrian man carries a sleeping child off a bus at the Travelodge in Nanaimo last Thursday. The group of 38 refugees

Big families make Syrian refugees a challenge to house

Many refugees still in Metro Vancouver hotels, Surrey top destination for permanent homes

Surrey is the top destination where government-assisted Syrian refugees are finding permanent homes in B.C.

Nearly 300 or close to half of the just over 600 government-assisted Syrians that have found permanent accommodation are in Surrey, said Chris Friesen, settlement services director of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Coquitlam accounted for about 20 per cent of permanent refugee homes, followed by Burnaby, Vancouver and Delta.

But more than 900 government-assisted Syrians were still in hotels waiting to move into permanent homes, including more than 160 in Abbotsford, as of Feb. 29.

Friesen said some of them have begun to be transferred to cities outside the Lower Mainland, including Victoria and Nanaimo, with more destined for centres like Prince George, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops starting this week.

The hope is permanent housing will be easier to find in those centres than the high-priced Metro Vancouver area.

“As we predicted, we’re dealing with larger size families – larger even than we thought,” Friesen said, adding that means large suites or homes are needed.

“The ongoing challenge for us remains permanent housing,” he said, adding language training and jobs are the next top priorities.

The government assistance in place for one year provides a family of six with a maximum of $885 a month for accommodation – much less than the typical rent for a large home.

Families of three or more also get $649 a month for food and clothing under the federal Resettlement Assistance Program and a one-time start-up allowance of $1,709. The food and clothing allowance is fixed whether it’s a family of three or 10.

“The Syrian men are very anxious to get into employment but they don’t speak English. So we’ve got to work through that,” Friesen said.

“We’ve also got some mental health trauma beginning to surface in different ways. So that’s an ongoing concern.”

ISS of B.C. has 14 volunteers working to identify housing and other assistance and the refugee wave is like nothing they’ve seen in recent years, particularly when it comes to big families.

The number of Syrian families arriving over the past 10 weeks with six or more family members has now surpassed the number of assisted refugee families of that size of all nationalities that arrived over the previous six years since 2010.

A total of 1,541 Syrian government-assisted refugees in 343 families had arrived in B.C. as of the end of February. Those numbers don’t include additional privately sponsored refugees.

Canada declared it had met its interim target of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February.

But Friesen noted still more Syrian refugees are expected to come to B.C. in the months ahead.

He predicted another 1,600 government-assisted Syrian refugees were likely to enter the province by the end of the year, plus up to 900 non-Syrians.

– with files from Phil Melnychuk

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

Panthers’ Captain Tanner Wort faces Tory McClintick of the Victoria Cougars during Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League action Friday night at Panorama Recreation Centre. The Panthers lost 3-0, then lost 7-2 Sunday. (Gordon Lee/Submitted)
Peninsula Panthers’ losing streak reaches four games as injuries mount

Injuries have especially hurt the team’s backline with only four defenders available

The drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health opens COVID-19 testing site at UVic

As with all other sites, an appointment is needed to receive a test

Thousands filled Centennial Square in June for the peace rally for Black lives, sparked by outrage over the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
Survey seeks input on racism in Greater Victoria

Confidential answers to inform work with immigrants and marginalized people

Carolyn and Steve Touhey came across a pod of humpback whales while on their boat Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo supplied
VIDEO: Boaters encounter pod of humpbacks in Georgia Strait

Pod spotted between Comox and Texada Island

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Most Read