Syrian refugee families brace for “Month 13”

Dozens of Syrian refugee families are getting set to face a new challenge and uncertainty as they enter their 13th month.

Dozens of Syrian refugee families are getting set to face a new challenge and uncertainty as they enter their 13th month of living in Victoria.

According to Jean McRae, chief executive officer of the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, 360 Syrian refugees — 240 who have arrived with the help of the federal government and 120 that have been privately sponsored through volunteer groups or the Anglican Diocese — have come to Victoria in the past year. A few families have relocated to Duncan and Nanaimo. Most recently, a few refugees trickled in before Christmas.

However, after a year of living in Canada, the monthly federal stipend that families receive from the federal government will come to an end, as well as any funding that private sponsorship groups have provided to help pay rent and food, among other things.

Members of some families have managed to find full- or part-time jobs, but McRae said the majority are not yet fully equipped to provide for themselves.

While many refugees have been taking English classes, McRae said their knowledge of the English language was much lower than anticipated.

“A more realistic trajectory is a couple of years not one year. I think everybody acknowledges that. The first six months people are really just getting their feet in the ground and learning English to the point that they’re going to be safe on a worksite and they can understand instructions,” she said.

“For people who come in with nothing, in terms of the language, it’s unrealistic to think they’re going to get there in a year.”

After the families’ 13th month of living in Canada, those with children will still get the child tax benefit, which McRae said will be useful for large families with multiple children.  But she stressed the importance of grasping the language before finding a job.

“The biggest challenge will be that transition into the workplace and getting used to the Canadian workplace,” said McRae.

“Finding a job is one thing, but as people continue to learn English . . . it’s really getting a realistic sense of what’s our there in the community in terms of work and figuring out a plan in order to get themselves there.”

Families who have not found a full-time job are able to apply to transfer onto provincial income assistance.