Uniting for the Syrian Refugees

Syrian-refugee-girlMeeting the Humanitarian Need

As the humanitarian crisis caused by the civil war in Syria continues, thousands of Canadians have mobilized to sponsor refugees and help the new arrivals to Canada. Provincial and municipal governments are actively preparing in anticipation, and settlement agencies are gearing up to deal with the increased demand for services.

10,000 refugees will arrive in Canada by the end of December, and another 15,000 by the end of February. The immediate focus is on ensuring access to housing, language training, healthcare, and employment supports for this first wave of Syrian refugees.

Of the 10,000 expected before the end of 2015, about 400 will be coming to BC, according to the Immigrant Services Society of BC. Another 1500 Syrian refugees are expected in BC before the end of February 2016.


Where Will They Settle?

The government has released a map showing the proposed destinations for Syrian refugees that have already been privately sponsored in British Columbia.

This is how the numbers in BC fall so far:

Burnaby:                              31

Coquitlam:                          20

Delta:                                    6

Kelowna:                             9

Langley:                               Less than 5

New Westminster:          49

North Vancouver:          Less than 5

Prince George:                 5

Richmond:                        10

Surrey:                               20

Vancouver:                       54

Victoria:                            10

Note that these are numbers for privately sponsored refugees. Through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program, sponsors can apply to resettle specific refugees in Canada, with the sponsors paying for all of the basic expenses for the refugees when they arrive (including rent, food, transportation, etc.) for one year or until the refugees become self-sufficient.

Some private sponsors are organized to sponsor refugees on an ongoing basis, and have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees when they settle in Canada. Other sponsors may be persons or groups who are not involved on an ongoing basis but have come together to sponsor refugees.

Help Syrian refugee families settle in the Lower Mainland.

The United Way Mission

For most newcomers, settling successfully in a new country takes several years. Governments and services will need to be able to meet the immediate needs of refugees, such as housing and healthcare. But support will also be needed for a more prolonged period of adjustment while these newcomers adapt to life in Canada.

The United Way is committed to helping ensure that Syrian refugees are welcomed in our communities, and that they have the support required to adapt and thrive in Canada. Support for community-based immigrant and refugee settlement services is a key part of the United Way’s Healthy People, Strong Communities focus area.

Upon arriving in Canada, refugees may find their new life overwhelming.  Some challenges often faced by newcomers are:

  • They may have left the homeland where their family lived for generations; this may leave them feeling rootless — that many deep ties and connections have been cut.
  • They may be coming from rural life in their country to an urban life in Canada.
  • They will likely experience culture shock when the customs and values of their new home may seem foreign and confusing.
  • They may feel isolated with the loss of the social support network of family and friends they had in their homeland.
  • They may be adjusting to a change in economic status. They may have lost everything when fleeing their homeland, and find themselves starting “from scratch” in Canada.
  • Children, as they approach adolescence, may find themselves caught between two cultures. There may be times when the children feel they feel they must choose between their parents’ culture, and the culture of their new home.


To address these challenges, the United Way supports a network of agencies that provide a range of supports for refugees. These supports include:

  • Assessments and newcomer orientation sessions designed to help new arrivals get their feet planted firmly on the ground;
  • One-on-one counselling and other services that help address the trauma and other issues associated with fleeing war-torn regions;
  • Language training, education, housing, and employment services that help refugees achieve long-term success in Canada; and,
  • Initiatives designed to break down barriers to opportunity and create a more welcoming environment, helping to ensure that newcomers and refugees can build new lives – and a better future.

211: Gateway to Resources

Key to the network of agencies supported by The United Way is the 211 service. 211 is an award-winning telephone help line. In Southwestern BC, bc211 provides a gateway to community, social, non-clinical health and related government services.  By dialing or texting 2-1-1, callers can contact a bc211 Information and Referral Specialist for information about these resources. Phone service is available in over 150 languages, including Arabic. This information can also be found by visiting The Red Book Online.

About bc211

More than 60% of British Columbians can access 211 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – to get reliable information and help in over 150 languages. bc211 serves Metro Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Squamish-Lillooet and Sunshine Coast Regional Districts in southwestern BC.

bc211 already helps refugees and newcomers find housing, language training, skills development and other supports required to build productive lives in Canada. We are now auditing and complementing our resources to strengthen our ability to assist Syrian refugees. Some of these resources can be found on The Red Book Online.


How Can I Help?

We’ve all been touched by the news that’s been coming out of the Middle East and Europe. This humanitarian crisis has moved many Canadians to act.  However, many of us are unsure of how to help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Support local United Ways, helping to increase the capacity of our community immigrant and refugee services to ensure that refugees get the best possible start for a new life in Canada.
  • Support international humanitarian relief efforts through aid organizations like the UN Refugee Agency (www.unhcr.ca) and the Canadian Red Cross (www.redcross.ca).
  • Check out the Federal Government refugee page or call 1-844-61 SYRIA (1-844-617-9742, TTY: 1-800-465-7735)
  • Visit the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia’s “How can I help refugees” web page which has a list of ways we can support the new arrivals.
  • Vancity Credit Union is offering members an interest-free loan when they undertake home upgrades to ready a suite or room to house a Refugee through the ISSBC program or Private Sponsorship Program.
  • Give to the United Way of the Lower Mainland’s community fundraising appeal – United for Refugees – which aims to raise $500,000 to help these children and families settle in our community.
  • Call or text 211 for resources to help refugees and newcomers.