British Columbia

Syrian refugees: B.C. government checking capacity of regions to settle newcomers

The B.C. government says it is working to ensure settlement services have the capacity to handle 2,500 refugees arriving in the province in the next six weeks.

Provincial funding will go toward health care and education costs of settling refugees, says Shirley Bond.

Shirley Bond, B.C.'s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour, says the province is checking the capacity of regions outside the Lower Mainland to support refugees.

The B.C. government says it is working to ensure settlement services have the capacity to handle 2,500 refugees arriving in the province in the next six weeks.

Shirley Bond, B.C.'s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour, spoke with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition about the backlash against refugees settling in northern B.C., and explained what the provincial government is doing to support the newcomers.

What are your thoughts on the backlash in some northern communities against refugees settling there?

I'm a very proud Northerner — I live in Prince George. I've certainly heard both sides of the argument.

I've heard people welcoming and reaching out to welcome refugees in many parts of the province, not just northern B.C. People are offering their help and their assistance.

And then there are those who are concerned about the services that are available, looking at the job situation in some parts of the province.

I understand and I certainly acknowledge people's concerns and I want to reassure British Columbians that we are looking at capacity. That is an important part of this.

In September, your government announced $1 million in a readiness fund for Syrian refugees. How far will that money go?

Well we have to look at what that money will be designed to do. And that's the conversation we've been having with immigrant-serving organizations over the last number of months.

The most important thing to remember is the federal government is the primary funder of initial support for government-supported, government-sponsored refugees. One of the things we want to make sure is that as the refugee numbers increase in provinces, that there is funding and support being provided that matches the number.

On the provincial side, what we will do is come alongside and provide, for example, additional capacity to immigrant-serving organizations, to provide the support from the ground in those welcoming circumstances — education, health care, those kinds of things.

We will be absorbing some of those costs. If a child goes to a school district, there is a count done in February and school districts will receive per-people funding for those children.

Does it make sense to encourage refugees to settle in northern B.C. when the social services that refugees need, like translators and cultural outreach programs, are in the Lower Mainland?

I think our job is to assess capacity around that. I have an incredible organization in Prince George, for example, called the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society which helps with refugee settlement all the time.

We accept refugees every year in British Columbia. And while the majority do end up in the Lower Mainland, there are refugees that do settle elsewhere in the province. So our job is to check at capacity. We're going to be reasonable and responsible about that. But we also have people offering, and if services are available, we believe that is a legitimate consideration.

How confident are you in the Canadian government's screening process for these refugees, relaying some of the fears some people have?

I've made my views known clearly to Minister [of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship] McCallum in our initial phone call. He has assured me that here is a robust plan in place and he is hopefully going to share that plan soon.

Security and safety of British Columbians is a priority for us as well, so we await the federal government's plan and I hope it arrives sooner rather than later.


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Shirley Bond on resettling Syrian refugees in B.C.

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