It’s been months since the federal government met its goal of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, and the effort has largely faded from the headlines.
But behind the scenes, settlement agencies are still hard at work – and Chris Friesen with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. says the effort is really only half way there.
LISTEN: Lynda Steele checks in with Chris Friesen with the ISS
Here in B.C., Friesen says about 1,700 government assisted refugees and a further 550 privately sponsored refugees have arrived and have settled in about 25 communities.
He says since then, the federal government has largely wound down its operation, though is preparing to accommodate a second wave by the end of the year that will nearly double arrivals.
In September, ISS workers will gear back up to begin accepting another 1,500 government sponsored refugees, and a further 410 privately sponsored refugees are still slated to arrive.
Friesen says housing has been one of the biggest challenges to the resettlement effort, though he says while they expected it to be tough it was for different reasons.
“Oh yeah, we were aware. But what we didn’t know though, is we didn’t have insight into the family sizes. To give you a sense, by the end of 2015 we had about 114 government assisted refugees that had six or more family members.”
He says some of those families had as many as 13 members – a challenge, considering their federal assistance is based on welfare rates, meaning a big family would only get about $1,100 a month for housing.
About half of those arrivals ended up living in Surrey, largely because of the cost of housing.
He admits the cost of housing families temporarily proved to be unexpectedly high as well, with 10 hotels providing accommodation at the peak of the effort.
Friesen says that issue has now been largely resolved.
“We’ve got about five or six families remaining to secure permanent accommodation.”
One of those is that more resources are needed for the post-settlement period, both when it comes to language training and income support… an issue he says also affects low income Canadians.
“The rates largely haven’t been adjusted for many years, and with the cost of living increasing, with the housing cost and housing crisis, food increasing – for families on limited income it is a huge challenge to make ends meet.”
He says settlement agencies are now casting the net wider for host communities outside of the Lower Mainland.
Friesen also says as Ottawa gears up to accept its second wave of arrivals, the ISS is asking them to add two new filters to potential arrivals.
One of those is special needs and medical conditions. The other – family size.
“We cannot sustain significant numbers of large sized families in this region of the country.”