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More money coming for rent, language classes for Syrian refugees in B.C.

March 18, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

John McCallum, Canada’s minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, sat down with The Vancouver Sun Friday for an interview that focused on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in B.C. Just over 2,300 government-assisted Syrian refugees have arrived since early November, which is almost three times the number of refugees this province usually receives in a year. The vast majority have settled in Metro Vancouver.

Q: I would like to start with the government-assisted refugees that have arrived here. Some of them are in pretty dire situations. They’re spending their entire government allowance on rent, because the families are large, they need large units and housing is expensive here. This forces them to use food banks and scrape by as best they can for their other expenses. I’m wondering if the supports in place for government-assisted refugees, in your opinion, are adequate?

A: If you’d seen where they came from, in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon as I have, then I think they are better off where they are today. The transition is never instantaneous, but we are definitely making progress.

Two or three weeks ago, just 52 per cent of the refugees already here were in permanent housing. Now that’s up to 72 per cent. The vast majority should be housed by May, all of them by June. Now Vancouver and Toronto have been slower than the rest of the country, because those are the two biggest cities with expensive housing. So in the case of both Vancouver and Toronto, two or three weeks ago it was 30 per cent and now it is approximately 50 per cent. … Now, we’re trying to speed that up in a number of ways, partly through private donors. We’ve raised over $30 million from the private sector, led by CN at $5 million. (The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. got a piece of that money Friday, with a $500,000 contribution from the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees to help large families with rents.)

We’re also trying to speed up access to child tax credits. If you have four, five or six children, which many of them do, it’s not a trivial amount of money you get from child tax credits. And, we are acting to try to spread the refugees out more evenly across the country … we never wanted to concentrate them in Vancouver and Toronto, for obvious reasons. And so we now have Victoria opened as an official receiving centre. We have some six or seven communities in British Columbia receiving government-assisted refugees. We have some 30 to 40 communities in British Columbia receiving privately sponsored refugees.

Q: Some of these refugees have disabilities. A great many have experienced significant trauma, they don’t speak any English. Not all will be able to work. Will there be enough support for people like this?

A: Well, there’s two sides of the coin when we say we were seeking the most vulnerable people. On the one hand, we got the most vulnerable people, and that was the plan … we got the list of people from the United Nations, of vulnerable refugees. We worked from that list and that’s what we received. That was the objective.

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