Hundreds attend SFU Surrey forum hoping to help Syrian refugees

Hundreds of people hoping to help Syrian refugees coming to Surrey, B.C., showed up at a forum connecting them to local service agencies looking for assistance.

Goal of the forum was to connect eager residents with community resources looking for help

A community forum in Surrey, B.C., attracted hundreds of people eager to help Syrian refugees. (CBC)

Hundreds of people hoping to help Syrian refugees coming to Surrey, B.C., showed up at a forum connecting them to local service agencies they can contribute to.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said her office has been flooded with calls from people eager to donate goods, services and cash.

"Right now the office is getting, overwhelmingly, 'What is it we can do to assist?'" she said.

Hepner said she toured the refugee welcome centre in Surrey earlier on Wednesday, and she was struck by the tenacity and strength of those who had struggled to escape their war-torn homeland. 

She said the most common needs she heard from the refugees at the centre were to learn English, to get their children into school, and to find a job. Many, she said, emphasized that they were thankful to Canada for receiving them. 

Making a lasting mark

Christina Wiebe was one of the people who attended the forum.

Kwantlen University student Christina Wiebe said she attended the Surrey refugee forum to find an organization to donate care kits to. (CBC)

She and her classmates at Kwantlen University put together care packages with household basics as part of a class project, and was looking for an organization to donate them to. 

"It's our last semester at Kwantlen, so we wanted to find a way to give back to the community and make a lasting mark," she said.

"I think it's going to be quite difficult trying to acclimatize to a new home, and if the community is there backing  you up and giving you support and making it feel like home, it's going to be a lot better for everyone."

The Muslim Food Bank was one of the agencies at the forum. It provides people with religiously-sensitive food — halal, vegetarian, or kosher. But it also offers refugees personal support from volunteers.

"We connect local Arabic-speaking families with a Syrian family," he said. "It's like a big brother program." 

Immigrant Services Society of B.C. director Chris Friesen said children make up a large part of the refugee families coming to the province. 

"We have seen that one out of every fourth Syrian is under six years old," he said. "We've seen larger than expected families — on average, six family members."

Friesen explained that 61 per cent of the refugees are under 18. 

With files from Kiran Dhillon