It’s been nearly six months since the federal government began its initiative to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, and while finding housing presented itself as the initial challenge, a volunteer who has worked extensively with Syrians in British Columbia says once refugees leave the hotels provided by the government, they are virtually on their own.
“Once they’re out of hotels, they’ve been just left alone, so [there’s] not enough support for anyone,” Imadeddin Sawaf told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration Tuesday morning.
Sawaf, who works for the B.C. Construction Association when he’s not assisting refugees with employment and other needs, said Syrian refugees in B.C. are “literally left alone.”
Many Syrians have to find their own housing after living in hotels for months, and once they find housing, they are left to their own devices — most cannot speak English — to figure out how to find a family doctor and how to register their children for school, Sawaf explained.
When Conservative MP Michelle Rempel asked Sawaf what he would recommend to bridge the gap and assist refugees he described as ‘alone’, Sawaf suggested the government fund a new agency or a community group — ‘people who are qualified’ – to actually help Syrians settle in the community.
Sawaf said there’s no lack of funding — the problem lies with those who are there to help refugees — they’re not qualified, he said. Sawaf mentioned that there have been a lot of problems with interpreters who work for government funded agencies who have difficulty speaking Arabic with Syrian refugees.
Sawaf’s testimony was followed by that of Eman Allhalaq, a Syrian refugee who Sawaf helped in B.C.
Allhalaq thanked Canadians for welcoming Syrians here, and “changing our lives.” Allhalaq went on to describe some very challenging experiences she’s had.
Allhalaq was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after arriving to Canada, and she’s had a lot of difficulty travelling to and from the hospital and even receiving her diagnosis because of language barriers.
She described the challenges of going to the hospital alone, without an interpreter, only to find out there is no interpreter at the hospital and having to leave and return once she has one.
“This is something we are all facing,” she said.
With Sawaf’s help, Allhalaqal found housing on her own after living in a hotel for two months.
“Basically they told us you’re on a waiting list, 40 families came to hotel, so just wait until your turn comes up. Too much waiting, I wanted to register kids at school, ” she said.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca