Abbotsford welcomes dozens of refugees

More than 100 children among 23 Syrian families to call city home.

Twenty-two refugee families were welcomed to Abbotsford earlier this week and are now adjusting to life in the community they will call home.

The families, who entered the country through Canada’s government-assisted refugee program, are larger than first expected and include more than 100 children aged 17 and under, according to Donna Lo, manager of settlement services with Abbotsford Community Services (ACS), which has a contract to help the refugees during their first two weeks here.

The refugees are currently staying in a local hotel, and Lo said their first few days here have seen them dealing with the large amount of paperwork needed to set up life in a new country.

The children, meanwhile, have been taking part in youth activities to keep them busy. Few of the refugees – who are all originally from Syria but were previously living in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan – speak any English, but ACS is employing five Arabic speakers to help the new arrivals. ACS has also set aside a designated room in the hotel for prayers.

The BC Muslim Association has also been heavily involved in helping settle the families, providing welcoming baskets with food, toiletries and other essentials, along with volunteers who have helped with transportation and other necessities.

Prior to the refugees’ arrival, ACS hadn’t known many details about the 22 families set to arrive in the city this week. The fact that they are large families, with 160 people in total, including 112 children, has limited some housing options. Families will be shown prospective homes over the next week.

“We want to give them a choice, but at the same time it’s going to be hard,” she said.

That complicating factor aside, Lo said ACS has received substantial support from the community, and especially from the local Muslim association.

Other faith groups, both Christian and Sikh, have also been of great assistance, according to Imam Islam Ullah at the BC Muslim Association. The school district will also soon be registering the 86 children who will start attending classes in Abbotsford.

Government-assisted refugees are pre-screened abroad before being admitted to Canada, where the federal government covers the costs of their first year in the country.

Islamullah said the refugees have been vocal in their desire to make Abbotsford their home, and many are educated with skills that should allow them to find work.

“They want to be independent, they’ve been very clear on that,” he said. “I’m fully confident that they will be able to integrate into society very well.”