SD43 making plans for Syrian refugees

It's not yet known what the exact numbers will be, but plans are in the works to take in the new arrivals

As many as 200 pre-school and school aged Syrian refugee children may be arriving in School District 43 over the coming weeks based on current projections of B.C.'s share of 25,000 arrivals nationally.

But how the district will handle the numbers still an open question.

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Reno Ciolfi, assistant superintendent, told the board of education Tuesday that it's too early to say what resources will be necessary to accommodate the arrivals.

"We have a history of refugees and when they arrive, we'll plan for that," said Ciolfi in response to questions about the district's ability to handle the influx.

However, he told The Tri-City News that an additional Arabic-speaking settlement worker would likely be required, with funding expected to come from the federal government.

But it's still too soon to say what teachers and education assistants would be needed because it's not known yet whether the projected numbers will actually arrive in the district.

Board chair Judy Shirra noted that when the district planned for an influx of Bhutanese students several years ago only three actually arrived.

Still, she is concerned about the district's ability to plan for the new arrivals given the short time line, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed this week that he had no plans to withdraw from his promise of Canada accepting 25,000 Syrian by the end of the year.

"It does concern me that we have so many all at once, a lot won't speak English and may have social problems," Shirra said.

Still, without knowing where the refugees will be housed, it's difficult to know what services needed to be ramped up and where, Ciolfi agreed. "We're very cautious about our outlook and how we are transitioning through that," he said.
However, trustees were told the province plans to fund refugee students in the Feb. 1 enrollment count so schools can hire teachers and support workers as needed.

According to the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., the province typically takes 11% of government sponsored refugees, with about 600 people possibly coming to Coquitlam based on past history. Among those, approximately 126 would be school-aged children, and about 66 would be in the 0 to five year age range.

In addition to schools, StrongStart pre-school programs could be expected to see Syrian refugee children and their families.

ISS director of settlement services Chris Friesen said he expects to have more technical details about the federal government's Syrian refugee resettlement plans by the end of the week.

But as of now, the agency is ramping up communication between government and social services agencies to plan for the arrivals and has a new website for people wishing to help. Housing is the biggest concern, and ISS is reaching out to people for leads to affordable housing.

"We are working flat out to ensure that Syrian refugees have the best possible start in Metro Vancouver and the Tri-Cities region, with the continued support of the publics interest and willingness to help out."

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