Victoria has welcomed a total of 40 Syrian families (154 individuals) who have arrived as refugees to make their new home in our city.
Finding a home for these families has been a part the commitment Canada made last year to ensure 25,000 people from that war torn state would find refuge and a new home in Canada before year’s end in 2015. That target was met early in 2016 and the total number of Syrian refugees now stands at 30,862.
More than 4.5 million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict in that country — the majority of whom are women and children.
“It’s hard, challenging work, but for many of the volunteers involved in the process (here in Victoria) it is the best thing they’ve done in their entire lives,” said Rev. Canon Bruce Scott, the refugee coordinator for the Anglican Diocese of B.C.
“These people have lost loved ones, their homes, in some cases their careers and professions, and certainly they’ve lost their country. They lost all those things, yet they arrive with a sense of gratitude and hope for the future. It’s really quite inspiring.”
Scott expressed hope the work can continue as the initial flood of people wanting to help settle and support refugees has slowed since last year.
That slowdown comes as an increasing number of individuals identified for private sponsorships has increased as a result of the current refugees identifying family members and other acquaintances still in Syria and desperate to escape.
“Private sponsors have to identify specific individuals they wish to sponsor,” said Jean McRae, chief executive officer of the InterCultural Association of Greater Victoria.
“Now, with those individuals being identified by relatives already here, we have way more people identified than we have groups to sponsor them.”
McRae’s association has sponsored 61 individuals to date, but have another 100 waiting in the system as they are processed by the relevant government agencies.
The process, said McRae, can be difficult for both the refugees and those waiting to help.
Scott has seen similar delays with sponsors working with his organization as well. He said anyone who fears the screening process for refugees isn’t stringent enough really doesn’t know the facts.
“Right now it’s taking about 18 months to process the applicants. I’d love to see that brought down to nine months, but it certainly isn’t a wide open system,” said Scott.
Once the refugees arrive in Victoria, their challenges are far from over.
McRae 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 truth, though, is some refugees may be looking at a period when they need to receive social assistance and other help to survive in their new home.
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.”
Anyone interested in helping Syrian refugees can contact icavictoria.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.