A Syrian man and his children step off a bus in Nanaimo on Mar. 3. The man and his children were among 38 government assisted refugees who arrived in Nanaimo that day.

A Syrian man and his children step off a bus in Nanaimo on Mar. 3. The man and his children were among 38 government assisted refugees who arrived in Nanaimo that day.

Refugees worry about family members abroad as federal government assistance ends

NANAIMO – Refugees move onto provincial social assistance after one year in Canada, but concerns more towards overseas relatives.

As refugees begin to mark the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Nanaimo, it’s another anniversary that could potentially create new challenges for some refugees.After one year in Canada, government-assisted refugees will stop receiving federal assistance cheques and private sponsors are no longer responsible for financially supporting their sponsored family.

Refugees will move onto provincial social assistance plans, provided that they haven’t already found good-paying jobs.The occasion is known as Month 13. Tony Davis, assistant refugee coordinator with the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, said for government-sponsored refugees, the switch to provincial social assistance isn’t as noticeable.“They just continue on income assistance, but they are still going to struggle even at that,” he said. “They’ve got to maintain a reasonable standard of living. They’re no different than anyone on income assistance. What they will lose out on is any federal assistance for medical or dental.”Davis, who has been instrumental in organizing and informing private sponsorship groups here in Nanaimo, said the switch to income assistance could be harder on privately sponsored refugees as they’ve likely received more money than government-assisted refugees.”They are really going to have to learn how to live on what income they have. Now, some of them are able to do that much easier than others … because they’ve acquired significant English so they can get some employment,” he said. “Just like a lot of other Canadians, they are going to have to learn how to live within their means.”Davis said if the reduction of income is significant for sponsored refugees, they could end up having to move to more affordable housing, which may be a challenge to find, especially with larger families.

“A $200 a month difference can make a significant difference in what kind of housing they can be,” he said. “Again no difference than any other low-income person.”Samantha Letourneau, settlement worker the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society, said while there will be financial challenges, such as dental costs, the refugees’ concerns aren’t about Month 13, but about their families overseas.

“It is incredibly difficult for families to feel settled when they have members of their family still in conflict areas,” she said.

Michael Mann, who is part of the sponsorship group that brought the Al Mansour family to Nanaimo, echoed those concerns. He said the Al Mansours have two adult children, each with families of their own, who are still in refugee camps overseas. Their children have been sponsored by two groups in Nanaimo.”In our particular case, the [Al Mansours are] in good shape,” Mann said. “We are more concerned that their kids in Lebanon get here soon. We know it is so hard on the family right now.”

The Al Mansours are among the few, as many other refugees do not have the luxury in knowing that their other family members are being sponsored by Canadians.Letourneau said in some cases, refugees have children who ended up getting married in refugee camps, resulting in them being considered a separate family.

“How do you relax?” she said. “We have some families who have teenage children and because they got married in the camp their file changed.”

The federal government had trial program called Syrian Family Links Initiative, which aimed to bring refugees’ family members to Canada through private sponsors. However, it will be discontinued at the end of the year due to a lack of sponsors.reporter2@nanaimobulletin.com