Ahmed Adam is 49 but looks a decade older. The refugee from Sudan measures out the amount of time he has been in Canada without pausing to think. "One year, three months and 15 days."
His wife is still in the refugee camp in Egypt that was their home for 10 years, and their 18-year-old son remains in their homeland. Theirs is just one of thousands of families torn apart by five decades of civil war.
Mr. Adam, a pharmacist and medical technician in Sudan, now lives in Surrey and works for a printing firm.
He hopes to be joined soon by his son, who has been approved for sponsorship, but he added in slow English that he is still "in the process of sorting out the sponsorship" of his wife.
Mr. Adam chose Canada from a United Nations list of refugee-sponsoring countries. Like all refugees, he was not given the choice of which Canadian province, or city, would be his new home.
When he landed at Vancouver International Airport last year, he was met by representatives of Welcome House. The federally funded immigration service and housing complex in downtown Vancouver shelters refugees during their first weeks in the country.
But after a month he moved to Surrey, because he felt lost, he said. He was told by Welcome House about the 3,000-strong Sudanese community in this city of 400,000.
"I had to come to Surrey because there was more support. I didn't find help anywhere else," he explained.
Surrey is now home to more than half the Sudanese refugees in British Columbia; most of them arrived in the city over the past three years, either directly from refugee camps or from other parts of Canada.
They are attracted by manageable rents and a support network of other newcomers who have been through similar circumstances and who speak their Arabic dialect.
Mr. Adam, with his job and his improving command of English, can be considered a success story.
But according to the Surrey Delta Immigrant Services Society, many other Sudanese refugees are falling through holes in the safety nets designed to support them. The agency is responsible for helping hundreds of refugees adjust to life in Surrey and Delta.
Many of these people have suffered severe trauma in war zones. Some have children, born in refugee camps, who have never seen the inside of a classroom. Others have little trust for authority figures and may shy away from services that could help them.
"There is no plan to assimilate refugees in B.C., and we need a plan," said Harpal Johl, director of family services for the SDISS.
"This community is lacking services because no one takes into account that Surrey has turned into a major area for Sudanese refugees. The support is in place for people from South Asia [in terms of programs and funding specifically targeting Surrey's largest immigrant community] but every month new Sudanese families arrive here."
Mr. Johl said the pressure on language and settlement programs in Surrey-Delta is at a crisis level because of a lack of funding, which comes from government and charitable foundations. He said the SDISS alone spends about $40,000 a year on outreach programs for approximately 100 Sudanese families. He said it is harder to determine how much is spent on English-language programs for the Sudanese, because people of many nationalities attended the same classes.
Salah Kharief, a 33-year-old refugee who arrived two years ago, said English classes were crucial for him.
"I was panicked because I knew if I didn't study English very well I couldn't [get]a good job or be able to go to college," he said, adding that he was able to settle in relatively easily because he had a brother already in Burnaby. Although Mr. Kharief worries about his limited English, he now volunteers with a food bank and at seniors homes.
Lisa White, manager of the City of Surrey's community and leisure services, said that Sudanese newcomers are starting to take part in programs such as those for young children.
"We have definitely seen more Sudanese refugees participating and have assisted them in applying for funding for drop-in programs and other services.
"I've noticed the increase in the last two years in particular," she said, adding that she expects the community's needs for her department's services to continue to grow.
Abdalla El-Habib, a 38-year-old former refugee, has been in Canada 12 years. He said the increase in the Sudanese community since 2001 has been remarkable.
"As a member of the community, I can really feel the problems," he said. "Some people wait months just to start English classes. This really needs more attention from the authorities."