Syrian refugees are settling into new lives and new homes around Greater Victoria.
Dozens of government-supported refugees have moved on from temporary West Shore accommodations to permanent residences across Vancouver Island. While positive steps are being taken, Inter-Cultural Association CEO Jean McRae said challenges continue for the roughly 150 people who arrived here in February and March.
“People are happy, but there are also many people worried about family members back in Syria,” she said. “(Their feelings) run the gamut and people have gone though very difficult, scary situations, so they are also coping with that, too.”
While some are “over the moon,” she said, others are working through peaks and valleys, acclimatizing themselves to a completely different lifestyle with the help of the ICA and the Red Cross.
Many other service providers have stepped up their support, including the Greater Victoria Public Library, which has facilitated access to resources in their native language, and West Shore Parks and Recreation, which offered complimentary access to their facility.
Only two families remain from the first Vancouver Island influx, a family of six and a family of four.
The others have moved on to permanent residences, with children already attending public schools while their parents partake in Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) a free national program to help adults improve their English to the point they can hold a job.
“Very few of the people coming in have much English at all, so most are going through learning a new language, (which) especially as an adult is exhausting work,” McRae said.
“For little children, it is different, but for adults it’s very hard … They are working on it and realizing how tough it is can be … (but) they will master it and start to feel in control of their environment and what they can do.”
Through all this, McRae said, the community has been extremely patient and welcoming, both in terms of donations and volunteerism. “A huge thank you to the community for their generosity and welcoming,” she said.
She hopes to see that continue as privately sponsored refugees make their way into the Capital Regional District.
That support has already started, as local businesses have offered to hire Syrians and the school districts have worked hard to ensure a smooth transition for their children, some of whom haven’t attended school for years.
More support will be needed for families in crisis, McRae said. “They are worried about their (relatives) and they will want to help to bring their family members who are in precarious situations. We are still looking for people who are privately sponsoring refugees.”
To find out more about sponsoring, visit cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/index.asp or call the ICA at 250-388-4728.