Community conversations are taking place, hosted by the Immigrant Centre, to address the needs of approximately 200 Syrian refugees that are expected to be in the City by the end of February.
Frank Bauer of the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E.) said the community is expecting between 200 and 210 government-sponsored refugees in the City in the next few months. Conversations are being held to develop solutions to issues such as inadequate affordable housing, health care needs, education needs and helping people adjust to the community.
“I’ve been impressed with the overall response of the community,” Bauer expressed.
“There are so many people who spontaneously contact us to ask, ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ Individuals and organizations have started initiatives to help by collecting donations to help support these 200-210 refugees that we expect. I’m really impressed and I’m really happy with that.”
Last week a stakeholder meeting was held by Catholic Social Services (CSS) that provided a space to develop ideas and working groups to address issues in the community surrounding the acceptance of refugees. Red Deer is not new to accepting refugees, but this high number of refugees will require creative thinking to accommodate, officials have said.
Issues such as housing, health care, child care and more were discussed last week.
“Looking at housing, there is a problem overall with the regular number of refugees we are receiving into Red Deer – which is around 60-70 people a year. To find affordable housing is going to be a big challenge. There are low vacancy rates and the cost of housing is very high in relation to the allowances that refugees will get from the government,” Bauer said.
“Another challenge is education. If the projections are still correct that we will receive between 200 and 210 refugees out of the total of 25,000 coming to Canada, based on the family sizes and demographics of Middle Eastern families, we can except between 90 and 100 school-age kids coming to Red Deer. Trying to find a spot for them in the school system will be a challenge.”
Bauer explained as these issues arose, the meeting attendees formed groups made up of individual citizens, organizations and representatives to move forward with resolutions.
“Health is another challenge as well. There is already a shortage of family doctors, let alone family doctors who speak any Arabic,” Bauer said. “Out of these 200 refugees, it’s estimated that between 70-80 adults will need some kind of English as a Second Language (ESL) training as well. We’re filled there already.”
Bauer said from the discussion, several working groups have been formed to address some of these solutions and bring them to a reality.
He added the Immigrant Centre is receiving an impressive number of inquiries by phone, email and correspondence to their web site where people are saying, “What can I do to help?” and are wanting to provide donations.
Issues such as living accommodations, donations, and other suggestions on how to assist Syrian refugees are being channeled through the Immigrant Centre. Bauer said the agency will be one of the first notified when government-sponsored refugees enter the City.
“C.A.R.E. and CSS are registering anyone who wants to volunteer in any capacity,” Bauer said.
“They can contact us and we will put them on a list and as soon as we know more about Syrian refugees arriving, we will be in touch with these people.
“It can be in any form of help – temporary transportation, being a friendly, welcoming family or individual, any Arabic speaking people – which will be a great need – that will all be coordinated through C.A.R.E. and CSS.”
Additional information on assisting refugees can be found on the City of Red Deer web site.