Refugees welcome in B.C., advocates say, despite online backlash

As communities across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley reach out to offer help to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their country, it is not without some backlash.

A quick scan of the online comments after local media coverage of refugees being accommodated on the South Coast shows sentiment from some who believe British Columbians need to come first in such an expensive place to live.

But one advocate says, on the ground, support for Ukrainians has been overwhelming.

“It’s not just here in B.C., but throughout the whole world, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants and other internally displaced people are always the victims of racial discrimination,” says Alexandra Dawley, senior manager of the Refugee Settlement and Integration Program at the non-profit organization MOSAIC.

“We see racist attacks, xenophobia, and ethnic intolerance. This racism can be both the cause and the product of forced displacement,” she tells CityNews, pointing out MOSAIC continues to help settle refugees fleeing places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Venezuela as well.

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However, Dawley says the positive response outweighs the negative.

“As if to counter the despair and the atrocious things that are going on, we are witnessing overwhelming acts of compassion, of welcome, and we are seeing people opening their hearts and homes to refugees.”

Along with its partner — a local Ukrainian church — Dawley says MOSAIC has received offers from over 100 individuals who have been willing to open up their homes to refugees.

“Really what we are seeing is there is racism and an unfortunate side of refugees arriving in a new country, but we are also seeing a beautiful side.”

Dawley admits that the cost of living in Metro Vancouver can be a challenge for refugees, along with the low vacancy rate.

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“Housing is a challenge for everybody. As refugees arrive, they have the freedom of movement, so they can determine where they would like to live and, of course, we can guide and support individuals to areas that may have a slightly lower cost of living,” she explains.

“For example, we work with many refugees who decide to live in Abbotsford or Chilliwack. But ultimately, have that freedom — perhaps they are coming to Vancouver because they have existing family here. We support those decisions and can offer guidance and support through the process.”

Of the five million Ukrainians who have fled the war, those who have chosen to shelter in B.C. are still arriving.

“We are seeing that many people through the new program are beginning to arrive in Canada. I don’t have the exact numbers for B.C., but we are beginning to see individuals arriving in Vancouver, into the Fraser Valley, and also onto Vancouver Island,” Dawley says.

“Its really a three part process. There is supporting individuals before they come to Canada, ensuring it is clear what to expect when arriving, and also that they are set up in a good way when it comes to health and mental health. Once they arrive, we offer initial settlement support, taking care of needs like housing and mental health. Further down the road, there are settlement workers who help get children into schools, to take language lessons as they need, and supporting employment ambitions.”

Dawley reiterates how much compassion British Columbians have shown as more Ukrainians arrive.

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“I’m blown away by the wave of support — we are seeing shared humanity and the power of solidarity. As people continue to offer things like their homes, we have employers who are wanting to hire refugees, and we are seeing individuals who are wanting to donate.”

MOSAIC has a “donate now” page that offers options for those who would like to help.

“At this time we are not accepting furniture and clothing donations, but we do accept grocery store gift cards and, of course, financial donations so we can provide high-quality, wraparound services for those who are arriving.”

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