It's been two years since the first Syrian refugees began arriving in the Saint John area, and some of those upset by continuing growing pains voiced their complaints outside the YMCA on Friday.

At the core of the issue is access to interpreting services. The YMCA of Greater Saint John provides support to Syrians settled in the area, including interpreters.

But several newcomers told CBC News that the majority of the interpreters provided aren't qualified or aren't available when needed, which could be a serious problem when medical visits are involved.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mohammad Khawdam said refugees primarily use interpreters for medical visits. 

"A lot of people here, they don't speak very good English, and they've been at the hospital translating for people," Khawdam said.

syrian complaints

Newcomers rely on interpreters primarily for medical visits but say they often aren't up to the task. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Ali Abed said interpreters have been so unhelpful, he has taken his complaints directly to the YMCA's administration, but did not get results.

Angelique Simpson, the vice-president of newcomer and community connections, said interpreting services remain one of the YMCA's biggest challenges.

The problem, she said, is a lack of Arabic speakers in the region.

"We are in a constant process of trying to recruit community volunteers to help us as best as possible," she said.

Angelique Simpson

The YMCA's Angelique Simpson says finding Arabic speakers for interpreting services continues to be a challenge. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Simpson said the YMCA only has two staff positions for interpreters and relies on community volunteers for the rest.

"We do try to respond to every request for an interpreter," she said, but a shortage of talent or the turnaround time means not all demands can be met.

Majad Khalit said he used to work with the YMCA as an interpreter, often working full-time hours. He needed to abandon the position for financial reasons.

"How do you expect people to come and work for the YMCA when you don't want to pay anything?"

Frustration at appointment

The Syrian newcomers shared a story about a woman who had major issues getting a female interpreter so was sent to a hospital appointment with a male interpreter instead.

When she said she couldn't be alone with the interpreter without a hijab, he allegedly grew frustrated with her and threw a pen and medical form at her back.

Simpson said she couldn't comment on individual cases but was aware of what happened.

"It has been brought to my attention and we are addressing it," she said.

Because of time constraints, the YMCA won't always be able to provide a female interpreter when needed, Simpson said.

She also said the YMCA has notified health-care providers to tell them they will have to do more to assist with interpretation in the new year.