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Dozens of refugees set to arrive in Abbotsford by end of month

Syrian refugees in a makeshift camp in Jordan. - Andrew Holota
Syrian refugees in a makeshift camp in Jordan.
— image credit: Andrew Holota

Between 20 and 25 refugee families from Syria are expected to arrive in Abbotsford by the end of the month.

The refugees will be sponsored by the federal government, and there is “tremendous energy” from locals laying the groundwork for their arrival, according to Manpreet Grewal, Abbotsford Community Services’ director of multicultural and immigrant integration services.

The refugees – whose number could exceed 100 – are set to arrive here on Feb. 22 and will be housed in the short-term in a local hotel while homes in the city are found. While organizers don’t yet have specific information about many of those who will be arriving, they will all be Syrians currently housed in camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Only a few are expected to speak English, and most will be children under the age of 17.

“This will become their community,” said Grewal. A variety of agencies have spent the last several months preparing to welcome the refugees, but she said much remains to be done – including finding permanent housing – and the community’s help will be needed to help the families integrate into Abbotsford, she said.

Preparation began several months ago, with service workers first consulting with clients from the Middle East about the services and assistance the families might need once they arrive. That was followed by a meeting with stakeholders, which saw, among other services offered, doctors step up to provide help. And in late January, the organization held a community forum, where many stepped forward to offer assistance.

“We got a lot of help from people saying ‘I want to volunteer,’” she said. “There’s a lot of goodwill in this community. It’s just a matter of how we channel that energy.”

Upon arrival, the refugees will be greeted by teams that will work on finding housing and helping the refugees feel at home in Abbotsford.

Grewal says finding housing will be the biggest challenge, and the group is hoping apartment building owners come forward with available accommodations.

Anyone who can provide housing is asked to call 778-809-4411, while those interested in volunteering can call 604-217-3055.

While Abbotsford Community Services is leading the local effort, the arrival of the refugees in British Columbia is being co-ordinated by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. In January, the organization had to pause ongoing arrival of refugees because of a lack of housing in the Vancouver area.

The refugees won’t be the first to arrive in Abbotsford from Syria, though. Last Friday, a family sponsored through the blended visa-office referral initiative (BVOR) by the Interfaith Refugee Project arrived in the city. Other groups are also raising money to sponsor families through the BVOR, which provides for some government funding. One such group from Bakerview Church is holding a concert this Saturday.

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