Refugees get communication help from Island Arabic speakers

Twenty-one of the 250 Islanders who have come forward to help re-settle refugees from Syria speak Arabic, but P.E.I.'s Association for Newcomers to Canada thinks that may be enough.

'When they're looking for the best place to find Halal meat, for example'

Syrian refugees coming to P.E.I. may need help communicating in Arabic. (CBC)

Twenty-one of the 250 Islanders who have come forward to help re-settle refugees from Syria speak Arabic, but P.E.I.'s Association for Newcomers to Canada thinks that may be enough.

The Arabic-speaking Islanders who have volunteered to help out are from the Middle Eastern countries of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, said Craig Mackie, executive director of the association.

"Arabic would be the common language, and then you'd have regional dialects, and they would have different ways of saying things," said Mackie.

"I use the example of a person from Jamaica trying to talk to a person from an outport of Newfoundland. They're both speaking English, they may not understand every word they're saying but they would be able to communicate on one level or another."

Mackie said many of the refugees might speak some English already.

Many arrival details still unclear

Mackie said the association still doesn't know exactly how many Syrian refugees are coming, or when they will arrive. 

"If we have a lot of people coming in at once, then it will be more than our staff can handle. We would be looking to the volunteers to check in with the families, to see how they're doing, to answer their questions," he said.

"When they're looking for the best place to find Halal meat, for example, that would be the kinds of questions they might have. These volunteers will be on standby to help them out."

Craig Mackie hopes 21 Arabic-speaking Islanders will help Syrian families communicate. (CBC)

He said those privately sponsoring refugees likely already know something about the families and their needs, but the association knows little about who the government-assisted refugees are.

Mackie said he met a newly-arrived family on Thursday, including a mother who is an engineer whose English needs work, but whose two children "speak excellent English. They're ready to jump right into high school on P.E.I."

In the past few years, many international students have come to UPEI and Holland College from Egypt, but Mackie said the Newcomers Association has not yet tapped into that population to help with communications.

Post-secondary students "have already been helpful in other ways. We had a group of UPEI students who put on an information session called 'preparing for winter.' We had 45 newcomers go to the session," said Mackie.

The students demonstrated how to use snow shovels and how to dress properly for P.E.I.'s freezing winter temperatures.

A depot where Islanders can drop donations for the refugees will be open until Sat. Dec. 19. Mackie said the centre still needs beds and kitchen furnishings. 

With files from Angela Walker


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