When government-sponsored Syrian refugees step off the plane at Vancouver International Airport next month, they will be greeted – at the plane – by advocates speaking their mother tongue. Past customs and through the airport's glass doors, an unofficial welcome committee of service providers, refugee groups and some family members then plan to greet them with warm smiles and gifts.
It will be a homecoming, of sorts, a world away from home.
Nader Abdullah, president of the Syrian Canadian Council of B.C., said his organization is planning to have a "huge" group at the airport to greet the newcomers.
"We have some activities, some of our volunteers will want to prepare cupcakes for them, they will bring some toys for the kids," he said. "We have a campaign for strollers; we know some of them will come without strollers, so they [volunteers] will bring strollers for them."
These will be the first moments in Canada for an estimated 400 refugees – half government assisted and half privately sponsored – expected to arrive in British Columbia by year's end. The province is also expected to welcome 1,500 to 1,700 more by the end of February, for a total of about 3,100 in 2016.
A government announcement this week revealed a few more details of what provinces can expect, sending service providers scrambling on final preparations.
From the airport, a multilingual team from the non-profit organization SUCCESS will lead the government-assisted refugees to taxis bound for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.'s Welcome House in Downtown Vancouver. There, staff will help co-ordinate their temporary transitional housing, either in that building, a nearby commercial hotel or a West End apartment building donated by a developer, said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at the ISS.
In their first few weeks in Canada, the government-sponsored refugees will get help from ISS to navigate the paperwork to secure Social Insurance Numbers and medical CareCards, applications for child tax benefits and bank accounts. All refugees will have immediate health-care coverage, as well as access to public education.
At this point, ISS will also refer those who need additional assistance to the Moving Ahead program, a first-language case management program.
"This is a home-based program that provides case management of families that includes escorts to medical appointments and schools," Mr. Friesen said.
At two or three weeks, those refugees will be moved to permanent housing throughout the Lower Mainland. This includes units donated by local developers and ordinary citizens. While 85 per cent of government-sponsored refugees typically go to five cities – Surrey, Coquitlam, Burnaby, New Westminster and Vancouver – many residents of places such as Richmond, Ladner and Delta are also offering their homes, Mr. Friesen said.
The society will order basic packages of household goods and furniture, paid for by the B.C. government, delivered to the permanent homes. These can include items such as a bed, sheets, blankets, a kitchen table and chairs, dishes and utensils.
"It's very, very basic, but it gets them started," Mr. Friesen said.
Meanwhile, privately sponsored refugees will be greeted at the airport by their sponsors – and possibly family members if they already have links in British Columbia. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, which has been sponsoring refugees for more than 30 years, has co-ordinated many of these reunions.
"Especially when it's somebody who's being reunified with a brother or sister, or another family member – it's a beautiful homecoming," said Evelyn Vollet, director of service and justice at the archdiocese.
Ms. Vollet said a settlement committee then transports the newcomers directly to their permanent homes and begins working on necessary paperwork.
The archdiocese, which has submitted paperwork for more than 500 Syrian, Eritrean and Iraqi refugees, is hoping to receive about 30 more Syrian refugees by the end of the year.