The best ways for BC to help Syrian refugees, from people who make refugee support their life work

55e4820575539Premier Christy Clark’s commitment to contribute $1 million to assist Syrian refugees was a welcome response to the growing crisis, but what’s the best way to spend the money?

The task is daunting given that at least half of the refugees reaching Germany have mental health problems as a result of violence, trauma or torture. Children make up about half of all those refugees registered so far.

These are people who need thoughtful, structured support, says Chris Friesen, executive director of the Immigrant Services Society of BC, which has more than 40 years’ experience in the field.

Friesen is circulating a lengthy briefing note on steps the province could take to make the maximum impact on this global crisis. It makes for sobering reading.

Two points that leap out: families should not be sent to isolated communities, whether they are isolated from specialized services and fellow country people. Nor should well-meaning and committed community sponsors underestimate the challenge.

As Friesen’s briefing note puts it: “We do not believe the public fully understands their rights and responsibilities along with the mental toll it can take to work intensely with a refugee family which includes often very traumatized family members.

“ISSofBC likens private sponsorship to what would be a ‘one year child adoption’ but on the scale of a family and where sponsors – de facto parents-guardians — must take care of all emotional, physical and financial needs for a stated period of time without significant details of the family they have agreed to sponsor. We are concerned about the lack of clarity from the federal government on the screening process as well as on going monitoring once the refugee has landed in BC.”