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Tri-Cities top refugee destination — ISS

Silvana Guglielmetti, a case supervisor with the Immigrant Services Society’s Moving Ahead Program, which helps refugees with special needs improve their English and acquire life and essential skills.  - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Silvana Guglielmetti, a case supervisor with the Immigrant Services Society’s Moving Ahead Program, which helps refugees with special needs improve their English and acquire life and essential skills.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Refugees continue to flock to the Tri-Cities, settling in neighbourhoods where there is affordable housing and transit, according to the latest provincial statistics.

In the first three months of 2014, the Tri-Cities were the top destination in the Lower Mainland for government assisted refugees, according to Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSBC), taking 30% of the province’s allotment of 97 people.

Most of the newcomers are from Iran and Iraq, according to Chris Friesen, ISSBC’s director of settlement services, with more expected to arrive in the coming weeks from Turkey, where they have been waiting for resettlement.

For several years, Coquitlam has been a prime settlement destination but the most recent developments have prompted ISSBC to expand its services in the area. Since January, 34 people have moved here, 13 of whom are of school age.

Friesen said the combination of services and already established communities of Iranian and Iraqi populations has proven to be a draw for people moving to the Lower Mainland from refugee camps elsewhere in the world.

“A lot of the destining process is driven by affordable housing and that’s something were following very closely and we’re trying to understand,” Friesen said.

DIFFICULT ADJUSTMENT

Many of the newcomers are fleeing religious persecution, Friesen said, and some have been persecuted based on their sexual orientation, requiring specialized services that are mostly available in Vancouver.

Still, for young adults moving here, the transition can be difficult, especially if they don’t speak English, and have limited schooling.

To meet their needs, ISSBC has its Moving Ahead Program for youth age 16 to 28 in its Cottonwood Avenue office in Coquitlam, where newcomers can meet one on one for help or in groups to obtain essential skills, develop a resume and learn interview practices, get access to scholarships, bursaries and grants, and help with goal setting and action planning.

ISSBC is also working with Share Family and Community Services to provide integrated services to refugees moving to the area so “people don’t have to negotiate all the different services,” Friesen said, “It’s like a one-stop-shop,” he said of the expanded offices on Cottonwood.

Meanwhile, settlement workers in schools are helping children get established in their home schools and, according to Krisztine Trumley, youngsters do well if they get support early. She said settlement workers do a lot of intense work with families, especially in the first few months after they moving here, so they understand how schools work and what’s expected of them.

Since September, 39 school-aged refugee children have been enrolled in School District 43, a lower number than in past years, Trumley said, and easily absorbable given the size of the district.

There are eight settlement workers who speak a variety of languages, including Farsi, Dari and Arabic, to help families of children access services such as clothing, the food bank and health care. As well, they teach parents how to deal with school routines and paperwork.

According to Trumley, the flow of refugee families has dropped off in recent years, partially due to the fact that a large Bhutanese community that was resettled here moved to Alberta to access jobs and cheaper housing, and she said refugee families are resilient and can do well once they are acclimatized.

“I think that’s really a success story,” she said.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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