The call is out for British Columbians to welcome new Syrian refugees into their homes. It comes from someone who knows the tragic cost if they don’t.
“We’re talking about human beings who need your help. Open your heart and open your door and your arms to them,” says Tima Kurdi.
Kurdi’s nephew Alan, 3, his brother Ghalib, 5, and their mother Rehanna drowned during an attempt to flee the war-torn country. The picture of Alan’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach caught the world’s attention, highlighting the desperation of the Syrian refugee crisis.
“It still hurt but I’m proud of my family, my nephews and their impact to save thousands of other desperate refugees.”
The Immigrant Services Society of BC says the “challenges before us are enormous” when it comes to the successful housing, health and education of about 2,700 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in the province by year’s end. The move is part of the new Liberal government’s promise to bring in 25,000 refugees fleeing the war-torn country in the next six weeks.
An official call for action has been issued for people with housing and employment opportunities as well as volunteers for services like trauma counselling and settlement mentorship. A sign-up page has been added to the ISS of BC website.
Within an hour of launching the sign-up page, 61 people offered housing, 90 offered their time as volunteers and three employment leads were made available.
The biggest challenge remains housing, with an estimated 1,350 housing units needed in Metro Vancouver, a market that is already strapped.
“Some have been in transition houses for over a year because it has become impossible to find housing in Metro Vancouver with a shelter allowance for a single unit of $375 a month,” says Chris Friesen, ISS of BC’s settlement director of former refugees.
READ MORE: Syrian refugees: How you can help
On top of housing, the demand on health and education is also a concern.
Two-thousand, two hundred newcomers are expected to fall within the Fraser Health network while 500 will be under the umbrella of Vancouver Coastal Health.
In terms of education, 1,000 of the Syrian refugees are expected to be under the age of 19 years old. Surrey schools are expecting to take in more than 500 new students, despite already being at capacity.
“There is an ability short-term to put up portables on some of the schools as long as they can get the provincial funding for the hook-up, the operation and to hire the teachers needed to help special students with these special needs,” says Surrey councillor Judy Villeneuve.
Mike Bernier, Education Minister, says per student funding will be provided to school districts but adds help on a federal level will be a future discussion.
Still, with many of the services falling under provincial jurisdiction, many are saying Premier Christy Clark needs to put up much more than a $1 million dollar fund earmarked to help Syrian refugees with the resettlement process.
“To put that into perspective, when you divide a million by 2,800 it works out to $280 a person. So we anticipate the province would also provide additional funding,” says Andrea Reimer, deputy Mayor for the City of Vancouver.