Kate Collins speaks during a meeting held Thursday to plan for the potential arrival of Syrian Refugees. The session was hosted by Langley Community Services Society.

Langley prepares for potential influx of refugees from Syria

While the community isn't anticipating taking in a large group, local organizations are putting together a plan, just in case

Several organizations in Langley are gearing up for a potential influx of Syrian refugees over the next few months, even though Langley has not been named as an official destination.

The Langley Community Services Society (LCSS) hosted a meeting on Thursday with participation from several immigrant agencies, faith-based groups and volunteers, to start preparing.

Although there are no government-assisted refugees expected to come to Langley, LCSS is aware of several who are being privately sponsored by residents in the community.

Numbers released by the Immigrant Services Society on Nov. 26 show two privately sponsored refugees and five blended visa office-referred refugees (partly funded by both private sponsors and the government) are on their way to Langley.

“We don’t know the number of people coming to this community,” said Sanjeev Nand, executive director of LCSS.

“I think they said 900 in Surrey, (and) we’re anticipating some spillover. It’s better to be proactive … we certainly do not want to see refugees or immigrants or newcomers fall through the cracks.”

So far, LCSS is starting the community asset development process to find out Langley’s capacity for refugees.

They are also looking at lessons learned with the settlement of 350 Karen people over the last eight years.

Like the Syrian situation today, Langley was not supposed to be a settlement destination for Karen refugees.

“The average Canadian has no idea about (Karen refugee) challenges or their experiences,” said Sharon Kavanagh, a volunteer with the Karen community.

“Many Karens say they have three lives. Their real life in their village, their 10 to 20-year life in the refugee camp, and then starting over again here in Langley. They can now laugh because they’ve been here for a little while, but the first few years were tough. They can laugh and they can say it was like having to become a child again. They have to learn how to talk, they have to learn how to walk and drive, and they have to understand how everything in Canada works, when it’s so different from everything that’s familiar to them.”

Another important aspect is forming relationships with the refugees, rather than “parachuting in and parachuting out,” warned Dr. Julie Clayton of Tipping Point Consulting.

“It’s not just about helping these people survive in their new context, but helping them thrive,” she said.

“How can they thrive and become positive contributors of our society here, in which we are all going to grow and be nurtured and be developed?

“I think this is a great opportunity that we have to share together.”

For people wanting to help, World Vision has published a list of the top five ways Canadians can help incoming Syrian families, beyond giving cash donations:

• Understand the crisis and talk about it. Do your homework, understand what they have been through and dispel myths with friends, families and co-workers to promote positive perceptions.

• Chat about it online. Use the Twitter #CanadiansWelcome as a forum for ideas on how to help. World Vision will share friendly messages and videos with resettlement organizations.

• Be a good neighbour. Contact local sponsorship committees or refugee services organizations and offer your time and your friendship. Offer transportation, free space and jobs.

• Donate professional time. Translators, language tutors, counsellors and other professionals can assist the adaption to life in Canada.

• Do fundraising. Host a yard sale of bake sale, organize a local community event, donate clothing and household items but make sure it’s specifically requested by receiving organizations.