Settling outside of the Lower Mainland could mean a warmer welcome for Syrian refugees, according to Premier Christy Clark.
“We want to make sure the refugees we welcome to British Columbia have the best chance of success possible and for some of them that will mean settling outside the Lower Mainland,” Clark said Monday.
Local settlement groups said that advice did not come from them. In fact, settling outside of Metro Vancouver could set Syrian refugees up to fail.
“What are the existing infrastructure, where are the best infrastructure to support in their initial settlement?” asked Eyob Naizghi, Executive Director of MOSAIC BC. “The Lower Mainland is going to be the best place to accept refugees.”
Twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees are expected to come into Canada by year’s end. Up to 3,000 are expected to arrive in British Columbia. Naizghi said the first year is integral and services including language programs, trauma counselling and settlement mentorship need to be readily available.
Comments by the Premier have also lead to petitions in smaller communities like Williams Lake and Fort St. John.
“It’s northeastern B.C. that concerns me right now,” said petition organizer Hailie Hambrook. “We’re all in a struggle right now. I think they need to go to places where the unemployment is much lower.”
In Golden, B.C., The BeaverFoot Lodge is willing to open its doors to help.
“We can take 60 to 70 refugees in, and we wanted to go from there,” said Raphael Assaf, who manages the lodge.
MOSAIC BC has been in talks with Assaf since housing that many refugees at once may offer a sense of community. Still, Naizghi said there are many other challenges that still need to be worked out including getting essential settlement services to the site.
Naizghi said he hopes one day the Syrian refugees will branch out to other parts of the province, but that won’t happen right away.