At least 200 people showed up at the gymnasium of Fleetwood Park Secondary school in Surrey tonight for a community forum on Syrian refugees.
Many Surrey residents say they were drawn to the forum because they want to help, but don’t know how – while others came to hear officials provide a snapshot of the current resettlement effort.
Mayor Linda Hepner says one of BC’s six reception centers is at the Sandman Hotel in Guildford.
“There are more than 80 children right now being housed in that hotel. Every parent that I spoke to said we are anxious to learn the customs, to learn the language, to speak English, to have our kids in a school.”
The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says 61% of all refugees coming to the province are under the age of 18.
— Shelby Thom (@ShelbyThom980) January 21, 2016
Christopher Kerr with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, says the federal government has provided agencies in Surrey more than $15 million a year to support refugees.
“This is especially significant for Surrey as the city is the top destination for immigrants in B.C..”
He says at least 1,000 government – assisted and privately sponsored refugees are currently calling B.C. their new home.
Chief Superintendent of the Surrey RCMP Bill Fordy told the crowd most refugees are vulnerable women and children, and says stereotypes and misunderstandings only perpetuate unnecessary fear.
That message was echoed by another speaker – a young former refugee himself.
Mateen Aminie says he came to Canada as a refugee six years ago at the age of thirteen.
In 2011 he says he was brutally assaulted in Surrey, and says he is lucky to be alive.
“Living in the Middle East people fear the police. People have mistrust of police, and people hate the police. So when I came here and I came in contact with the police, it really changed my mind, it blew my mind at how wonderful and how helpful and how dedicated they are when they do their job.”
The Pakistani native now aspires to be a police officer.
Follow CKNW’s Shelby Thom at tonight’s refugee forum in Surrey