Hundreds pledge rooms to unknown refugees

More than 360 offers of personal space in homes for Syrian refugees called unprecedented

Mohammad Al Lwisi

Mohammad Al Lwisi

Half of the accommodations being offered up in the Lower Mainland to incoming Syrian refugees are for rooms in the homes of people willing to share their living space with complete strangers.

There are more than 360 such offers of a room in a house across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – a response that has stunned Chris Friesen, the settlement services director for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

“I have no words to describe how incredible this is,” Friesen said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before – large numbers of people offering a room in their house or a basement suite in their house that does not have a separate entrance.”

It wouldn’t be unusual if these were privately sponsored refugees whose sponsors are often family or friends already in Canada.

But these would-be hosts are volunteering to open their homes to government-assisted refugees with whom they have no connection.

Some of those living spaces may have separate kitchens and bathrooms, but in other cases the hosts are ready to share.

“What drives people to do that? I don’t know. It’s what they feel they can do,” Friesen said. “Some of these folks are not even wanting to charge the families the rent money that they would receive.”

The volunteers have been getting stern cautions from Friesen’s staff that such a long-term commitment – three months is the minimum – may be too much for them.

“You’ve got to be prepared for all sorts of things – what does it really mean to share your bathroom with somebody,” Friesen said, adding staff point out refugees may be cook unusual foods with different spices.

“We’re trying to scare them off or just to make sure they’re committed,” Friesen said. “And they’re still keen.”

Most of the prospective hosts have undergone an orientation session and nearly all – with virtually no dropouts – are now undergoing criminal record checks ahead of the next stage: being matched with a Syrian. ISSBC staff will also first visit the house to assess suitability.

Rooms in houses account for more than 70 per cent of the offers so far in places like Pitt Meadows, Richmond and Port Moody.

Friesen expects more than 4,000 government-assisted refugees will settle in B.C. next year – way up from a typical 800 – making 2016 likely the busiest refugee settlement year since the arrival of large numbers of Vietnamese boat people in 1980.

As of Wednesday, ISSBC had 45 government-assisted Syrian refugees within eight families staying at its Welcome House refugee reception centre.

At least five additional temporary refugee reception centres are being set up across B.C., including one in Surrey at the Sandman Hotel in Guildford.

Full-time staff are being brought in to each reception centre, Friesen said, and mobile teams will work out of them to help arriving refugees.

A total of nearly 950 offers of housing have come in from 51 communities across B.C., with the largest numbers coming from Vancouver, followed by Surrey, North Vancouver, Langley and Burnaby.

The number of volunteers stepping forward to help with refugee resettlement is also unprecedented.

Nearly 6,000 have now signed up with ISSBC, compared to about 800 recruited in a normal year.

“We’ve been wonderfully overwhelmed,” Friesen said.

The plan is to assemble groups of five or six volunteers who will be matched with each government-assisted Syrian refugee family to provide them social support for up to a year.

For more on the story of Mohammad Al Lwisi’s family (pictured above) read: Future ‘brighter’ for refugee family in Oliver

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kevin Davey with Heritage Village long-term care facility holds a bag open as Lucyanne Carruthers of Panago Pizza in Sardis stacks some of the 35 pizzas to be given to the seniors’ residence on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Pizzeria owner continues to bring free lunches to Chilliwack seniors in long-term care

Even during COVID, Lucyanne Carruthers of Panago has been giving pizza lunches to Heritage Village

Chilliwack General Hospital. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)
Chilliwack mother upset about son’s alleged suicide attempt after hospital discharge

Rhonda Clough said 34-year-old son suffering with bipolar disorder should have been kept in hospital

Downtown Chilliwack BIA executive director Kyle Williams promoting the buy local ‘Shopportunity’ program that launched mere days ago. (Screenshot)
Downtown Chilliwack Business Improvement Association parts ways with Kyle Williams

BIA president Ruth Maccan said the association ‘will have a new look in 2021’

An anonymous person has decorated a tree and posted a sign encouraging others to do the same on the Teapot Hill Trail, and Bill Wojtun shared the idea on Facebook. (Facebook photo)
Could Cultus Lake’s Teapot Hill become Holiday Hill this Christmas?

An anonymous person is encouraging people to decorate trees on the local trail

Darwin Douglas, All Nations Cannabis CEO, and Cheam First Nation councillor. (Darwin Douglas/ Facebook)
Provincial reps a no-show at cannabis roundtable with All Nations Chiefs

Provincial snub was ‘disappointing but also somewhat expected’ says All Nations CEO

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, representing the Sto:lo Tribal Council, is one of five signatories on an op-ed issued Dec. 4, 2020 in response to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s report: In Plain Sight Addressing Indigenous-specific Racism and Discrimination in B.C. Healthcare. (Submitted)
OP-ED: Fraser Health and Indigenous leaders respond to report on racism in healthcare

‘We remain committed to real change, ending racism in our system’

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

Most Read