Victorians “incredibly welcoming” towards Syrian refugees

It’s been a year since a few hundred Syrian refugees flocked to Victoria as part of the federal government’s plan.

It’s been a year since a few hundred Syrian refugees flocked to Victoria as part of the federal government’s plan to resettle25,000 of them by the end of February 2016.

The first of the 154 people came to the city March 1, arriving within a week of each other. Another 91 have come since thenfor a total of about 68 families. One hundred and seventy more have been privately sponsored.

Now a year later, Jean McRae, chief executive officer of the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) of Greater Victoria, said thecommunity continues to be welcoming to the refugees, as they settle into Canadian life. And even though some areemployed, many are still trying to learn English in order to land a job.

“There’s a number of programs going on right now to really help this group find employment,” said McRae, adding manyhad low levels of education and spoke little to no English when they arrived. “For those people, it’s going to take them morethan a year to get to where they need to be safe on a job site and communicate.”

According to a new poll released last month, B.C. and Atlantic Canada are tied for being the most welcoming to refugees. At18 per cent each, the two regions beat the national average of 11 per cent of Canadians who thought the country shouldwelcome more refugees.

One in four B.C. residents thought Canada should have taken in the additional refugees in direct response to U.S. PresidentDonald Trump’s immigration ban, but another quarter of respondents thought the country should have adopted somethingsimilar.

The survey also found B.C. residents not only wanted more refugees, but thought newcomers would receive a warmwelcome in their province and so far they’re right.

Aside from one negative racist comment about incoming refugees on the ICA website, McRae said the community haswelcomed them with open arms.

“This community has been incredibly welcoming and people have contributed time, they’ve contributed money and callingus to say what can I do? It’s really been incredible,” said McRae, noting the negative comment on the website was the firstsince August 2015. “I think, by and large, Victoria is a fairly well educated community so people read the news and areaware of what’s going on in the world.”

McRae is now waiting to hear whether Victoria will receive any Yazidi refugees. Last month, the Canadian governmentconfirmed it will give asylum to 1,200 Yazidi refugees before the end of the year and nearly 300 people from the northernIraqi minority have already arrived.

In October, parliament unanimously passed a motion that would bring Yazidi women and girls who survived sexual slaveryat the hands of ISIS to Canada between mid November and February. The decision was a victory for activists and politiciansurging the Liberal government to extend the generosity it showed Syrian refugees to Yazidi women and girls.

In the meantime, the B.C. Francophone Immigration Program Victoria office will be hosting a welcome day celebration forimmigrants and refugees on Sunday, March 19 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Victor Brodeur School. The day will include acultural competence workshop, a free lunch cooked by immigrants and refugees, guest speakers and an artisan craft fair.Organizers are currently seeking immigrant and refugee artists. Admission is free, but registration is advised by March 13.For more information call 250-800-1601 or email xlondono@ffcb.ca.