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Canadians are asked to open up their homes and communities to thousands of muslim ‘refugees’



Metro Vancouver residents are being asked to open their homes and communities to the estimated 2,700 Syrian refugees expected to arrive in this province in the coming weeks.

John McCallum, the new minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, has said the Liberal government intends to fulfil a promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by Dec. 31.

The department has not indicated how many will be coming to B.C., said Chris Friesen, settlement services director with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. But based on past settlement patterns, he said, the province can reasonably expect to host 10 to 11 per cent of the total.

An analysis by Immigrant Services of refugee settlement patterns over the past decade suggests three quarters of the new Syrian arrivals will end up in Surrey, Coquitlam and Burnaby. Vancouver and New Westminster round out the top five destinations in B.C.

Accommodating three times the number of refugees B.C. takes in each year in the space of a couple of months poses a challenge.

This is why Friesen, along with municipal politicians from Surrey, Vancouver and Coquitlam, will issue a call to action Tuesday, asking Metro Vancouver residents to open their homes and volunteer their time.

As of Tuesday, the Immigrant Services Society website will have a place where people can sign up to help, Friesen said.

One of the biggest challenges will be accommodation.

The military is likely to play a key role initially, bringing refugees to Canadian Forces bases at Trenton, Ont. and Greenwood, N.S., and dispersing them across the country from there, Friesen said. This is similar to what happened with Kosovar refugees in the late 1990s. However, the two bases are not big enough to accommodate 25,000, so refugee reception centres such as Metro Vancouver can expect to see arrivals within weeks, he added.

“We’re now madly going out and soliciting hotels with kitchenettes throughout Metro Vancouver to set up temporary reception facilities where we can find them,” Friesen said.

“There’s talk about initiating the cities’ emergency housing protocols, so looking at cots on gymnasium floors, calling on church halls and exploring the Jericho barracks, everything, for immediate use in providing transitional housing for the short term.”

Some churches have already stepped forward to offer accommodation, he added.

Public help will be needed to assist refugees with longer-term housing, Friesen said.

“Rooms in people’s houses, basement suites, vacant houses on church property, everything.”

Immigrant services groups also want to hear from people in a position to help in other ways, such as Arabic translators, trauma counsellors, health and dental professionals and potential employers, Friesen said.

The Immigrant Services Society, which is contracted to resettle government-assisted refugees to this province, has asked the federal government for an initial 100 staff members and $6 million to deal with the expanded workload.

Meanwhile, the B.C. cities likely to absorb most of the Syrian refugees are preparing for their arrival.

Surrey councillor Judy Villeneuve said the city is waiting to see how many Syrian refugees will be directed there, and


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