As the federal government pats itself on the back for welcoming its 25,000th refugee over the weekend, BC’s resettlement agency says it’s just the beginning of a long road to integration.
The biggest challenge for Syrians coming to BC remains permanent housing.
Chris Friesen with the Immigrant Services Society of BC says 929 Syrians are living in Metro Vancouver hotels.
“To put it into context, between 2010 and 2015, we had 114 families that were larger than 6 family members. Between November 4th and February 29th, we have 101 families. It is not only the intensity of the increased arrivals, but also the large family sizes and trying to link them up with available housing on income support rates.”
The longest hotel stay has been 61 days, while the shortest was 15.
Friesen says the agency has received $2.8 million dollars from the feds since December, with much of it getting sucked up by hotel costs.
He says part of the problem is locking down decent housing leads, with refugees usually coming in bigger than expected groups.
“Particularly around leads for larger-sized families. We have a number of folks, hundreds of folks who came forward late last year, offering temporary housing 3-4 months but half of that was for smaller-sized families or individuals.”
Friesen says the agency is now moving refugees to smaller communities like Chilliwack and Langley, and that there are plans to begin moving some to cities outside of the Lower Mainland, like Nanaimo and Prince George later this week.
But he says other challenges also lie ahead, including crucial language training.
He says there was a boost for funding to English training until March, but questions hover over money for the key federally funded LINC program.
“There isn’t the same sustainabliliyt of influx of funding, so it’s unclear at this point what the capacity willb ein the Metro Vancouve fraser valley area for LINC classes, but many organizations are facing cuts and this will have an impact on waitlists and entry into classes.”
He says 600 Syrians have been moved into permanent housing since November 4th.