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

Just Posted

Comedy, chicken poop and dancing at Lytton Festival

This year’s festival will honour longtime supporter Shirley James

LETTER: Recreational angling has low-impact on Fraser salmon

Jason Tonelli writes about his displeasure at the call to close recreational fishing on the Fraser

Hope’s Wheeled Wild Women hit the road for cancer research

Group of friends ready for the 200-km bike trek that ends in Hope

PHOTOS: Paintings return to Kilby for fifth annual festival

The Plein Air Festival will be taking place at the historic site all weekend

Cougar spotted in Seabird Island

Residents are asked to report all sightings to conservation

Sts’ailes invites adults to become engaged in Halq’eméylem with new video series

‘Qw’oqwel te Qw’oqwel’ gives language learners an immersive way to learn Halq’eméylem

U16 B.C. fastpitch team named national champs

Girls went undefeated at national tournament in Calgary

Advocates ‘internationalize’ the fight to free Raif Badawi from Saudi prison

Raif Badawi was arrested on June 17, 2012, and was later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for his online criticism of Saudi clerics

Canadian entrepreneurs turning beer byproduct into bread, cookies and profits

Some breweries turn to entrepreneurs looking to turn spent grain into treats for people and their pets

Canada ‘disappointed’ terror suspect’s British citizenship revoked

Jack Letts, who was dubbed “Jihadi Jack” by the U.K. media, has been detained in a Kurdish prison for about two years

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

There have been months of protests in the semi-autonomous region

Most Read