Open Vancouver’s Jericho barracks for Syrian refugees, Ottawa urged

 

Extra beds could be used as transitional housing

 
 
 
 
Two Syrian refugee children pose for the camera while their family undergoes medical screening in Beirut, Lebanon, before flying to Canada.
 

Two Syrian refugee children pose for the camera while their family undergoes medical screening in Beirut, Lebanon, before flying to Canada.

Photograph by: Cpl Darcy Lefebvre, Cpl Darcy Lefebvre

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VANCOUVER — The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. is pushing the federal government to use the Jericho military barracks as transitional housing for the thousands of Syrian refugees expected to arrive in Metro Vancouver in January and February.

Initially, the federal government’s plan had been to house government-assisted refugees on military bases in Ontario and Quebec before sending them on to one of 36 resettlement communities across Canada, said Chris Friesen, settlement services director with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Ottawa now hopes to limit the use of military bases and send refugees directly to their new communities, Friesen said. Metro Vancouver is the only such destination community in B.C.

In Vancouver, due to a shortage of suitable accommodations, ISS of B.C. is suggesting the Jericho military barracks could be used as a temporary measure to house refugees before moving them to permanent housing.

As it stands now, government-assisted refugees will spend their initial two to three weeks in a reception centre in Metro Vancouver, Friesen said. This could be Welcome House in downtown Vancouver or a local hotel.

“We’re being picky. We want hotels that have kitchenettes so people can cook. We want to have hotels, ideally, with more than 40 rooms because we want to centralize it as much as we can with a limited number of sites. We’re looking at hotels in Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey currently,” he explained.

Use of the Jericho barracks “would provide us with a whole bunch of beds that we don’t really have right now,” Friesen said.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Nancy Chan, in an emailed statement, identified six military bases in Ontario and Quebec that could be used as refugee reception centres. She did not directly address the question of using Jericho, saying only that “no other (interim lodging sites) have been identified.”

It has been revealed that the federal government is seeking to book a swath of hotel rooms in Toronto and Montreal to accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees.

Between now and March, Ottawa needs 300 rooms daily in each of the two cities to house about 600 refugees per night, according to a notice posted Friday on a government procurement website. Suppliers will also be expected to provide meals.

The length of stays will vary: some will leave the next morning, others will need “two or more nights.”

Hotels will be expected to provide up to three meals a day. It states the government will reimburse up to $15 per person for breakfast, $16 for lunch and $30 for dinner.

The government is also asking suppliers set aside rooms for two government representatives who will be on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration of the bookings.

Chan said the government expects to spend $61 million to $77 million on overnight hotel accommodations and other activities to welcome refugees when they arrive.

The government has said it plans to invest $678 million over six years toward the resettlement and support of Syrian refugees.

Here in B.C., after temporary accommodation, the next move will be to find permanent housing for the refugees. The Immigrant Services Society has been collecting and mapping offers of housing in recent weeks and has close to 1,000 leads throughout the province.

About three-quarters of government-assisted refugees typically settle in Surrey, Coquitlam or Burnaby.

But many of the housing offers are in Vancouver, raising questions as to how refugees would afford to live in their new communities when they eventually would have to move. For families with children, it may mean shifting school districts. Refugees receive the same allowances for housing as people on welfare, which for a family with two or more children, is about $800 per month.

The private sector has also stepped forward with generous offers of housing for refugees, Friesen said.

“They want to put them in Vancouver and they’re willing to cover the rent for a year, whatever the cost. But we’re saying you can’t do that because the fall would be too far after the one year, because you can’t go from a $3,000-a-month hotel in Vancouver to a $800 basement suite in Surrey.”

Immigrant Services Society has also received about 6,000 volunteer applications for people who want to help settle Syrian refugees, Friesen said. The society is waiting on funds from Ottawa to provide training that would include an overview of Syrian history, culture and traditions.

“We’re looking at bringing together five or six volunteers ... and asking them to support a family not financially, but socially, emotionally for a three- to 12-month period,” he said.

Since Nov. 4, 926 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Most have been privately sponsored by community groups in Quebec and Ontario. Just over 200 privately sponsored refugees and an unknown, but likely small, number of government-assisted refugees will arrive in B.C. before the end of the month.

tcarman@vancouversun.com

twitter.com/tarajcarman

With files from Douglas Quan, National Post, and The Canadian Press

B.C. destinations for privately sponsored refugees

Burnaby - 34

Coquitlam - 20

Delta - 6

Kelowna - 9

Langley - 9

New Westminster - 49

North Vancouver - Less than 5

Prince George - 5

Richmond - 10

Surrey - 20

Vancouver - 54

Victoria - 11

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Figures refer to private sponsorship applications for Syrian refugees being processed by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada

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Two Syrian refugee children pose for the camera while their family undergoes medical screening in Beirut, Lebanon, before flying to Canada.
 

Two Syrian refugee children pose for the camera while their family undergoes medical screening in Beirut, Lebanon, before flying to Canada.

Photograph by: Cpl Darcy Lefebvre, Cpl Darcy Lefebvre

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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