The British Columbia government expects more than 200 privately sponsored Syrian refugees will arrive here by the end of the year – though it remains unclear how many of the 25,000 refugees expected nationwide by the end of February will settle in the province.
Immigration and Refugees Minister John McCallum, B.C. Jobs Minister Shirley Bond and representatives from settlement organizations and community groups met Wednesday in Surrey to discuss arrival, resettlement and integration plans for the refugees.
Ms. Bond said 217 privately sponsored refugees are expected to arrive in B.C. within the next few weeks.
"At the moment, the first wave of refugees coming to British Columbia are privately sponsored. They will arrive before Christmas," she told reporters. While the vast majority of the refugees will reside within the Lower Mainland, Ms. Bond said some are headed for different areas of the province, such as Kelowna and Prince George.
The number of privately sponsored refugees expected to arrive in B.C. between the beginning of January and the end of February has not been determined. The number of government-assisted refugees slated to arrive in the province is also unclear. Ms. Bond said the provincial government has told Ottawa it's prepared to take up to 3,500 government-assisted refugees.
The B.C. government in September announced a $1-million fund to assist Syrian refugees who settle in the province. Ms. Bond said Wednesday that $500,000 from that fund will go to five refugee response teams that will be made up of refugee service providers and will establish the resettlement plan.
The remaining $500,000 will go to the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. so it can connect private sponsors, settlement workers, counsellors and other service providers. The organization will also track volunteer offers, donations, and housing and employment leads, and establish supports for refugees who have been traumatized.
Ms. Bond also announced that $1.5-million will be made available through the Canada-B.C. Job Grant to assist refugees and new Canadians with skills training. She said the province will invest an additional $2.6-million in language training for refugees and other immigrants.
"British Columbia wants to be part of the solution. British Columbians have expressed in unbelievable ways across this province their generosity and their willingness to be part of the solution," she said.
Mr. McCallum, who was in Jordan over the weekend and spoke at a Calgary event earlier Wednesday, described the refugee effort as a "national project."
He lauded the generosity of British Columbians, particularly the Sikh community and Vancouver developer Ian Gillespie.
Sikh Khalsa Schools have offered one year of free education to 1,000 refugee students. Lower Mainland gurdwaras are willing to provide free meals and are also collecting non-perishable food, clothing and blankets. A local Sikh grocer has offered free groceries to refugees for up to three months.
"It was the Sikh community, which I belong to, who stepped up and said we wanted to do a co-ordinated effort. And when we got them together, it was an overwhelming response," Randeep Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre, told reporters.
Mr. Sarai said job offers have also started coming in from trucking companies and the trades.
"The goal of this is to inspire others, so we hope that other communities coast to coast, but especially in this province, show their generosity," he said.
Mr. Gillespie, of Westbank Projects Corp., has offered the Immigrant Services Society the use of 12 units over the next four and a half months. Every family will also receive free groceries.