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Surrey Hosts Refugee Welcome Day

Ethar Organization members dancing at Surrey's Refugee Day.

July 21, 2016

Surrey, BC – The City of Surrey hosted a Welcome Day for new refugees at City Hall yesterday. The family oriented event was held to welcome the newcomers and encourage their participation in the community.  Equally important, the Welcome Day provided another opportunity for community engagement between residents and the newcomers to Surrey. The United Way of the Lower Mainland and Vancity Credit Union were generous sponsors of the event.

“We are proud to host this Welcome Day for the new refugees who now call Surrey home,” says Mayor Linda Hepner. “The City of Surrey celebrates its diversity and inclusiveness. The generosity and goodwill the new refugees have come across in Surrey will go a long way in helping them achieve success in our City.”

As of June 2016, 799 government assisted Syrian refugees (GARs) have settled in Surrey, representing 44 per cent of all GARS that have arrived in BC since Nov. 2015.  About 60% of GARs settling in Surrey are under 19. In addition, 59 privately sponsored Syrian refugees have settled in Surrey.

Prior to the arrival of the Syrian refugees, a year-long study had been launched to examine refugee settlement challenges in Surrey. The report, Our Community Our Voice (OCOV) is a joint effort between SFU, the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership and the City of Surrey.  It details the myriad of issues facing new refugees. The research finds that needs range from language training, education, housing and employment opportunities to improving communication on expectations when and even before they arrive.

“Over the past year we’ve gained enormous insight into the challenges refugees settling in this City are facing, and how to develop potential practices and solutions to remediate the issues they face,” says Stephen Dooley, OCOV Principal Investigator at SFU Surrey. “To help them settle and establish their new lives we need to better understand their needs, expectations, and what they’ve been through to get here. The developing Syrian refugee story has made our efforts that much more critical.”

Dooley notes one of the key features of the study was the desire to develop capacity as the project unfolded. To that end, nine recent refugees were trained as research assistants to help with research delivery. Dooley says the research assistants showed that new refugees in Surrey have a lot to add to the community.

“This humanitarian crisis that is happening in the Middle East is bringing out the best of our Canadian values – as a country that respects diversity, that believes in equal opportunity, that is inclusive, and that is caring,” says Councillor Judy Villeneuve, Co-Chair of the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership. “The City of Surrey is aware of the importance of welcoming and including new immigrant and refugees as they start a new life in Canada and we are committed to creating a community in which everyone has a sense of belonging, and opportunities to participate and contribute.”

In the fall, the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership and City of Surrey will be using the SFU research to develop a refugee integration strategy.   A second wave of Syrian refugees is expected to settle in the region this fall.

Read the full report of Our Community Our Voice.


Media inquiries:

Blair Kesteven
Intergovernmental Liaison
City of Surrey                                                                        

Allen Tung
University Communications
Simon Fraser University

Report Recommendations and Fact Sheet

Report recommendations highlights:

  • Provide additional investment into new or existing settlement programs and initiatives in Surrey that address English language education, employment opportunities and training, health services and programming and affordable housing.
  • Increase opportunities for settlement agencies and community resource providers to interact with newly settled refugees.
  • Improve how information is communicated to refugees by multiple stakeholders, local businesses and others and with partners and groups on regional and national levels, both when they arrive and during the pre-arrival stage; and
  • Create opportunities that help Surrey residents to better understand and engage with newly settled refugees and help support their transition.

Fast facts

  • Over the past decade, Surrey has been a primary destination for Government Assisted Refugees, with approximately one quarter of all GARs arriving in BC settling in Surrey.
  • As of June 2016, 799 Syrian refugees have settled in Surrey, representing 44 per cent of all GARS arrived in British Columbia since Nov. 2015. About sixty per cent of GARs settling in Surrey are under 19.
  • The 77-page report is based on research grounded in the Active Community Engagement Model (ACEM), developed by Dooley and others and designed to build community capacity and involvement.
  • The interdisciplinary research team included representatives from SFU, KPU, Langara College and Surrey Schools.
  • OCOV research assistants included four SFU students, one from KPU and seven young refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq and El Salvador.
  • The study’s steering committee included representatives from the City of Surrey, Fraser Health Authority, Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS), Surrey RCMP, Surrey School District #36, S.U.C.CE.S.S., Immigrant Services Society of B.C., Surrey Libraries, Options Community Services, DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, KPU, Pacific Community Resources Society, and Semiahmoo House Society.