Settlement officials are hoping Ottawa can learn some lessons from the first wave of Syrian refugees, by hearing straight from the source.
About 60 teenage Syrian refugees living in Vancouver have made recommendations in a report to the government on how to smooth the transition for the next wave of refugees, who have already begun to arrive in the country.
In the first-of-its-kind report, teens called for a better housing strategy for families, as well as better employment programs and a clearer education plan.
Project manager with the Fresh Voices initiative of Vancouver Foundation, Jorge Salazar, says the recommendations could change the future for many refugees yet to arrive in Canada.
“If some of these issues are prevalent in the community, I think there is an opportunity here. We know we have good intentions in the way to welcome refugees so we need to make sure we create a system that is sustainable and that is about making sure that all Syrian refugees are feeling welcome.
Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with ISSofBC, says the input from the teenagers was insightful for future resettlement plans.
“They were very concerned about their parents ability to learn English, about their parents mental health situation. You know the bottom line message is that they see Canada as their home.”
The report found many of the youth anxious about the high cost of housing in the region and called for Ottawa to develop a housing strategy specific to the Lower Mainland.
Settlement officials have conceded that finding stable housing for the first wave of Syrians has been its biggest challenge, with Metro Vancouver’s nation-leading housing costs.
Some of those first refugees settled spent upwards of a month in hotels.
The report also found youth struggling to make sense of B.C.’s education system, with particular concerns about the steps after high school, how to enroll in post secondary, and how it all ties to jobs.
They were also frustrated with trouble getting accreditation for schooling completed before arrival, and called for officials to plot out a clearer pathway through the system.
Other recommendations include more employment programs, more help accessing support services, and the elimination of the refugee transportation loan program.
The input is timely, with another 1,500 government assisted Syrian refugees set to arrive in the Lower Mainland by the end of December.
Friesen says the ISS is better prepared this time around, and has asked Ottawa to send smaller families to help with the housing crunch.
The report was carried out by the Immigrant Services Society of BC and Fresh Voices Initiative of Vancouver Foundation, in collaboration with the teens.
With files from Simon Little