Swedish delegation learns how British Columbians are helping refugees
Thursday, October 6, 2016

A month after arriving in Vancouver, 13-year-old Syrian refugee Jin Yusuf was helping an international delegation understand how to best help refugee students like her and their families.

Yusuf, a student of Tupper Secondary School, was among more than a dozen students from the school sharing their experiences as newcomers to Canada with a six-member delegation from the City of Gothenburg in Sweden. 

The Vancouver School District receives about 3,000 newcomers each year, of which about 100 are refugees. Surrey School District, which the delegation also visited, receives about 300 refugees annually.

Delegation member Daniela Olmunger said Sweden has received 350,000 Syrian refugees since the civil war crisis and is facing a variety of challenges in trying to settle and integrate that many newcomers into their community. 

“We heard many good things about Vancouver and how you are thinking outside of the box,” said Olmunger. “It’s super important to see how your education system is helping the refugees so they feel they can progress.”

Gothenburg mayor Jahja Zeqiraj said besides learning about how our education system integrates refugees the delegation is also visiting other service providers such as the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. 

“Integrating refugees is one of the most important issues for us,” said Zeqiraj. “Vancouver is well known not only for being one of the most livable cities in the world but one of the most inclusive. We want to learn best practices and your experience helping students and their families integrate.”

Olmunger said that in Sweden one of the main problems trying to help refugees is there are many different organizations working in different areas of the city so it’s confusing for refugees to know where to go for help.

“Here you put everything under one roof. That struck us as a very good thing,” she said.

William Wong, of the Vancouver School Board’s Reception and Placement Centre, explained when a refugee student enrols in Vancouver they are assessed for math and English skills at the centre. Staff also meet with their families to connect them with services such as language classes for adults, and tenancy information.

The delegation also visited Guildford Park Secondary School, which hosts the highest number of Syrian refugee students, with 50 at the school alone. Even with the 300 Syrian refugee students now in the Surrey School District, another 300 more Syrians are expected to come by the end of December, said Surrey School District spokesman Doug Strachan.

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Source: The Vancouver Sun / Kim Pemberton

Photo: Jin Yusuf, 13, from Syria talks with Daniela Olmunger, one of six delegates from Sweden who talked with refugee students attending Charles Tupper Secondary in Vancouver, Oct. 5, 2016. (Arlen Redekop / PNG photo)