A forum to share information on what Surrey is doing to help settle Syrian refugees in the city drew more than 200 people to Fleetwood Park Secondary Wednesday evening.
The event, Coun. Judy Villeneuve told Peace Arch News, was organized to address questions surrounding the city and school district’s ability to manage the influx of new immigrants, along with interest from the community on how they can get involved.
“We had so many people coming forward asking how they could help,” Villeneuve said.
Last month, it was estimated that as many as 800 refugees could end up living in Surrey, as part of the federal government’s commitment to settle 25,000 across the country before March.
The city has so far permanently settled 32 sponsored refugees, Villeneuve said, and everyone “feels positive… we’ll be able to meet our role.”
Villeneuve said Surrey RCMP Chief Supt. Bill Fordy spoke Wednesday of a need to break down stereotypes around refugees, “and the fact there was no security threats.”
She said another challenge is finding housing for the new arrivals, noting it’s not uncommon for the families to include four or five children, she said.
Efforts undertaken to help ease their settlement include arranging space in the city’s libraries for such things as welcoming and childcare; along with opportunities for daytime use of the pools and rec centres.
Noting Surrey’s population is already diverse, Villeneuve said an exercise at the forum highlighted the role immigration has had in the city’s history. Attendees were asked to stand if they were immigrants themselves; those still seated were then asked to rise if their parents or grandparents had moved here.
By the end, “almost the entire room was standing,” Villeneuve said.
“We realized that Canada is really built on immigration.”
In addition to Fordy and Villeneuve, speakers at the forum included Mayor Linda Hepner, Surrey-Tynehead MLA Amrik Virk, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Peter Fassbender and Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.