Diversity committee hears Syrian refugees are struggling in Surrey
Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Many Syrian refugees are struggling to integrate into the community, Surrey's Diversity Advisory Committee heard Tuesday morning.

Surrey has taken in more Syrian government-assisted refugees than any other municipality in the province and keeping up with the demand for services has been difficult.

"They continue to face many challenges," committee member Sireen El-Nashar told her colleagues during her presentation at city hall.

"Even riding the bus can be tough with no Arabic translation."

El-Nashar says it's been hard for many to learn English and find work.

She says new programs are needed to help people get on their feet in their new country.

El-Nashar told the committee it's challenging for many refugees to get help for medical and mental health issues because they don't speak much English.

She says she has also heard from several families that are having a tough time adapting to Canadian cultures and customs.

The Surrey School District, which expects to have about 600 Syrian refugees enrolled as students by the end of the year, says its Welcome Centre addresses those concerns.

"The refugee students attend the Welcome Centre for assessment, as well as to learn about cultural norms," district spokesperson Doug Strachan said.

"The support for refugee students from war-torn countries is also specifically addressed at the Welcome Centre and at Guildford Park Secondary, which has the most number of refugee students."

Many Syrian refugees rely on the Surrey Food Bank for their meals but executive director Marilyn Herrmann says they are substantially outnumbered by the rest of the community.

"We had more than 700 families register in a window from February 1 to April 30 and 20 per cent of those were Syrian refugees," Hermann said.

"That's a large number of course, but it's not only Syrian refugees that are coming to us."

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Source: CBC / Jesse Johnston

Photo: Syrian refugee Mohamad Alorfi, along with workers at Diversecity's group counselling sessions in Surrey. (Catherine Rolfsen)