Surrey mayor organizes forum focusing on helping Syrian refugees

Linda Hepner has organized a community forum to provide details about how the public can assist Syrian refugees

Mayor Linda Hepner has organized a forum to discuss ways to help new refugees.

FLEETWOOD — Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner has organized a community forum to provide details about how the public can assist Syrian refugees.

Set for next Wednesday evening (Jan. 20), the forum is a chance to learn about what local agencies and government are doing to assist with refugee settlement, and how to help.

Hepner said the idea was hers.

“I thought it was very important that we take a convening role because I know everybody is doing their piece of it,” she said of the parties involved. “When we’re hearing of volunteers looking for ways to help, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get everybody together.”

Hepner said the city isn’t officially notified when the refugees land, but staff receive some information from service agencies.

“The whole process is not new to us but the numbers are new to us,” she noted. “Right now we’re not seeing on the ground the kind of influx that we expected. It may be those numbers don’t come to fruition. I don’t know where they’re landing and what the ultimate number will be.”

Hepner has invited police, service agencies and the school board, and hopes representatives from the federal and provincial government will also be present.

“We have people calling in asking how they can help. The goal is to provide that forum for people seeking that kind of information,” Hepner said. “A secondary goal for me is to ensure that the generosity and the goodwill that everyone is providing helps speed the success for the refugee families.”

She added, “I want to ensure that we’re delivering a message of integration into their new home.”

Hepner’s invited a refugee from Afghanistan to speak. Now 20, he arrived in Surrey at the age of 12. He now works with Surrey Crime Prevention Society and aspires to be a police officer.

“That’s the kind of integration and success story I want to be able to deliver,” the mayor stated.

Hepner says she is organizing tours for new refugees to show them recreation centres and other important city resources to help them adjust to their new life here.

“It is my intention to do a welcoming and integration speech,” Hepner said, “because I want them to understand that as welcoming as this community is for refugees, we also have an expectation of efforts on integration toward Canadian customs and embracing their new home. What I don’t want to see is an establishment of a mono-culture.”

Non-perishable food will be accepted at the forum, but clothing will not. Volunteer applications will also be accepted. The Jan. 20 event will be held at Fleetwood Park Secondary (7940 156th St.), from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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