Refugee Family pose outside of ISSofBC Welcome Centre

Mohamad (top right) and his family begin life in Canada at ISSofBC Welcome Centre.

Two refugee families reflect on the importance of vital support services during their first weeks in Canada as we celebrate World Refugee Day and the fifth anniversary of the opening of ISSofBC Welcome Centre – the first facility of its kind in the world to offer integrated housing and settlement services for all newcomers.

Designated by the United Nations, World Refugee Day June 20 builds awareness and a greater understanding for people displaced by conflict, violence and persecution.

The 2021 World Refugee Day theme is “together we heal, learn and shine.” For refugees arriving in Canada, the first several weeks in their new community represent an important step along the journey to realizing this vision and where ISSofBC Welcome Centre plays an important role.

Located in east Vancouver in British Columbia, the ISSofBC Welcome Centre offers a wide range of services, including temporary housing, language training, employment services, trauma counselling and childcare. Since opening in June 2016, the centre has assisted more than 4,700 Government – Assisted Refugees (GARs) in addition to seeing over 600 people a day accessing services pre-pandemic.

Yosra’s Story: five years on, remembering the importance of early support

Originally from Syria, Yosra, her husband and four children were among the first residents to take their initial steps in Canada at ISSofBC Welcome in June 2016. She remembers being excited and nervous during the long plane ride to Vancouver but the support the family received on arrival stands out as a happy memory.

“When I arrived at the Welcome Centre, I felt happy to see someone who speaks Arabic . . . they helped us to find a unit to sleep and we took a rest and they gave us information,” Yosra said via email.

With help from ISSofBC staff, Yosra and her family found housing, took English classes and enrolled their children in school. Yosra feels the early support helped her focus on the success of her children. She said she’s happy they’re doing well in school and have kind teachers. She’s also pursuing an important goal for herself – training for a career in nursing so she can help others.

“I feel very comfortable, me and my family . . . I would like to say thank you for everyone who helped us.”

Mohamad’s story: reflecting on the first two weeks

Mohamad and his family also know all about the importance connecting to community during the first several weeks in a new country. Originally from Syria, Mohamad, his wife and children spent nearly nine years in Jordan before receiving word they would resettle in British Columbia early June, 2021 and begin their Canadian life at ISSofBC Welcome Centre.

“It was a fantastic new experience, and we were greeted with a very nice reception and got to stay in a very comfortable place where we managed to learn a lot of general information about life in Canada and about British Columbia in particular,” Mohamad said via email.

The support they received immediately on arrival ranged from opening bank accounts, navigating tax systems, arranging primary health and dental health screens, and much more.

“The ISSofBC Welcome Centre is a perfect place for all the things a new immigrant needs, and it taught us many things about living in Canada that would have otherwise taken a long time to learn,” Mohamad said.

With the help of these early support services, Mohamad can focus on achieving his family’s goals in Canada, including reuniting with one of his children, who remains in Jordan.

“My success in the coming years in Canada is to see my children learn and quickly get involved in society. The most important thing for me and my wife is the success of our children.”

Mohamad and Yosra’s stories show that early support for refugees is often about building a strong foundation for many generations to come. For people of all ages, receiving compassionate and comprehensive support like those offered at ISSofBC Welcome Centre is an important step on the journey to being successful, thriving members of their new communities here in Canada.

Interested to hear more refugee stories? Join a World Refugee Day celebration today partnered with ISSofBC from 5:00 to 7:00pm.