A wel­come home to ar­riv­ing refugees

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - SPECIAL REPORT: MY VANCOUVER -

After months spent work­ing fever­ishly to re­set­tle a wave of refugees flee­ing the civil war in Syria, the Im­mi­grant Ser­vices So­ci­ety of B.C. has hit a long-awaited mile­stone.

On Satur­day, ISSofBC will for­mally open its new Wel­come Cen­tre at 2610 Victoria Dr., a fully in­te­grated, 138-bed fa­cil­ity of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of ser­vices to newly ar­rived refugees and im­mi­grants.

“We’ve been work­ing on this build­ing con­cept for many years,” said Pa­tri­cia Woroch, CEO of ISSofBC. “The con­cept is key: to have a multi-pur­pose fa­cil­ity that ad­dresses our mis­sion, which is, ‘help­ing im­mi­grants build a fu­ture in Canada.’”

While Woroch says the fa­cil­ity will ben­e­fit all new­com­ers to Metro Van­cou­ver, pub­lic fo­cus on refugee re­set­tle­ment has been es­pe­cially sharp in re­cent months, as about 1,600 gov­ern­ment-spon­sored Syr­ian refugees ar­rived in the city.

“The Syr­ian refugees posed a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge be­cause of the sheer num­bers and rapid re­lo­ca­tion from camp to Canada,” said Woroch. “The de­mands on lim­ited re­sources were stag­ger­ing. How­ever, we rose to the oc­ca­sion and con­tinue to work with the new­est of Cana­di­ans in our usual man­ner.”

An ad­di­tional group of about 1,300 refugees is ex­pected in Metro Van­cou­ver this au­tumn, many of whom will likely make use of what the Wel­come Cen­tre has to of­fer, in­clud­ing tran­si­tional hous­ing, lan­guage train­ing and em­ploy­ment ser­vices.

And while the duel­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of re­set­tling new­com­ers and com­plet­ing the Wel­come Cen­tre have stretched ISSofBC in re­cent months, Woroch says the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been buoyed by sup­port from the com­mu­nity at large.

“We have been over­whelmed by the kind­ness and sup­port we’ve re­ceived,” she said. “This is a spe­cial com­mu­nity in that it is vi­brant, di­verse and in­clu­sive.

“From wel­come cards sent by com­mu­nity groups to of­fers of any num­ber of kind­nesses, we have this won­der­ful sense of ‘com­ing home’.”

Now, the fo­cus shifts to pro­vid­ing a sim­i­lar sense of home­com­ing to the thou­sands of new­com­ers who’ll ar­rive in Metro Van­cou­ver over the next year. Woroch ac­knowl­edges that in­te­gra­tion can be dif­fi­cult for refugees; but she is hope­ful that with 44 years of ex­pe­ri­ence and its brand-new Wel­come Cen­tre ready to go, ISSofBC is in a prime po­si­tion to help Syr­ian refugees — and all new ar­rivals — make the most of their new lives in Canada.

Jen­nifer Gau­thier

ISSofBc will open its new fa­cil­ity on Satur­day.

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