Nanaimo officials are calling for affordable rental housing and volunteers with just days to go before 10 Syrian refugee families arrive in the city.
Ten government-sponsored refugee families will arrive in the Harbour City Monday (Feb. 29).
The community has agreed to take ‘overflow’ from Vancouver, with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. over capacity, according to Hilde Schlosar, executive director of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, whose agency has been co-ordinating a local response to the arrival of refugee families with the school district, health authority and City of Nanaimo.
She signed a contract to provide service to refugees just this week. It’s not known how many children are in each family, but they are expected to need support, such as volunteers to help break social isolation and permanent, affordable housing.
Unlike privately sponsored refugees, there’s no community network in place and the multicultural society is responsible for their settlement.
They will be put in local hotels temporarily.
Officials say they haven’t seen large numbers of refugees come to Nanaimo since the Vietnamese refugee crisis, but Schlosar said Nanaimo is well placed to help.
“It’s a very positive thing for this community to show our compassion and support for people in need,” she said. “We have so much here.”
She expects there will be a total of 18 refugee families in the area. Some are already in the community. It’s important they are supported, she said.
A lot of the refugees are small children who are going to need to feel welcomed and comfortable because first, they were in traumatic experience with war and family members disappearing, then were in refugee camps with the bare basics, said Schlosar, who says this is going to be a shift in their reality again and it will take time for them to adjust.
Some landlords have already stepped forward to help and the city plans to put out a call for housing. In a staff report, it says there’s a need for 10 or more three-bedroom dwelling units that can be rented for less than $1,000 a month. Government-assisted refugees are given a financial support equivalent to income assistance rates for the first year or approximately $1,500 a month for a family of two adults and five children.
The society is also recruiting volunteers to offer social support and help with transportation.
“We have our workers working their staff time and they have very specific duties … but in the meantime they’re sitting there in hotels by themselves, don’t know anything here, are nervous about going out,” said Schlosar, who said volunteers support refugees by going for walks with them or taking them out for coffee.
“It’s really to break their isolation and start getting them connected to the community.”
The Nanaimo school district has set up a welcome introduction centre for new families at Fairview Elementary School, a multi-aged classroom to figure out children’s language level, help with school awareness and learn about the Canadian culture. It’s meant to support the transition of children into the public school system.
It’s not known the supports they’ll need or where they are at. For example, there’s a family who’s come in with past schooling experience and an understanding of what school is about whereas others have little to no experience with formal schooling, said Tim Davie, assistant superintendent for Nanaimo school district. Neither does the district know what level of trauma they experienced.
“Any community, I guess, that’s receiving Canadian newcomers has a big task,” he said. “From our standpoint, it’s a matter of working with our community supports.”
Island Health will ensure there’s immunizations and disease screening. For more information, please call the multicultural society’s office at 250-753-6911.