The province's leading immigrant services organization is asking British Columbians to help settle thousands of Syrian refugees expected in the next six to eight weeks.
The new federal Liberal government announced its plans to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by the end of the year, with nearly 3,000 of them coming to B.C.
Immigrant Settlement Services of B.C. is describing it as the largest refugee relocation movement in B.C. history. Normally, it says, the province takes in up to 900 government-assisted refugees per year.
"We're talking about a 360 per cent increase in a matter of weeks, and we're bracing ourselves to respond," said Chris Friesen, the organization's director.
Friesen said, historically, refugees go to five primary communities in Metro Vancouver: Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, Vancouver, and New Westminster.
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How you can help
ISSofBC is looking for assistance in the following areas:
- Employment leads
- Settlement volunteers
Friesen said many of the refugees will likely start off in emergency housing settlements like military bases, reception centres and church basements.
He said finding affordable, permanent housing is expected to be one of the agency's biggest challenges — the agency is looking for up to 1,500 affordable housing units in Metro Vancouver.
During their first year in Canada, government-sponsored refugees receive assistance from the federal government. For a family of four, that will come to $1,349 per month — which is meant to cover food, shelter and transportation needs.
Those who can help or are looking for more information can contact ISSofBC by:
Volunteers and counsellors needed
Adel Othman arrived in B.C. from Syria four years ago. He spends a lot of volunteer time helping other refugees get settled.
"Nobody likes to leave their country," said Othman, "but people need safety and freedom."
Besides housing, there's a need for mentors like Othman to help get people settled and navigate their way through various bureaucracies.
There is also a need for registered clinical counsellors.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is often a big issue for refugees — it's estimated one third will suffer from PTSD, and as many as two thirds will suffer from some sort of mental health issue.
Friesen said ISSofBC got 61 housing offers, 90 volunteer calls, and three job leads over the course of a single hour after its announcement on Tuesday.