Government-assisted B.C. refugees most often live in Surrey and Coquitlam

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Three Lower Mainland cities—Surrey, Coquitlam, and Burnaby—received two-thirds of all government-assisted refugees to B.C. between 2010 and 2013.

This is just one of many intriguing facts in a new 40-page report by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. called Refugee Newcomers in Vancouver: Changing Faces and Neighbourhoods 2000-2013.

Only 10 percent of government-assisted refugees ended up living in Vancouver from 2010 to 2013, compared to 28 percent in Surrey, 22 percent in Coquitlam, and 16 percent in Burnaby (21.8 percent including New Westminster numbers).

"Vancouver is the number one destination for refugee claimants, but this data likely reflects the fact that many refugee claimants live in temporary accommodation (in shelter or with relatives) until they receive a decision on their claim," the report states.

Iran supplies the most government-assisted refugees

The top five source countries of government-assisted refugees to B.C. over that period were Iran (24 percent), Iraq (18 percent), Somalia (12 percent), Afghanistan (10 percent), and Bhutan (eight percent).

Four percent of government-assisted refugees were from Burma, mostly Baptist Christians from the persecuted minority Karen group.

"Because of their limited income and the high cost of housing in Metro Vancouver, many of the Karen live in crowded apartment suites," the report reveals. "It is common for 6 people to live in a 2 bedroom apartment or 4 people to live in a 1 bedroom apartment; teenagers and children often have to share a bedroom with their parents."

The report points out that newly arrived government-assisted refugees often settle where others in their community live.

"For instance, Somali and Iraqi communities that are already present in Surrey will likely 'attract' new arrivals from these communities," it states. "Conversely, newly arrived Iranian GARs are more likely to settle in Burnaby and Coquitlam than other communities as they will want to join an already well established Iranian community in these municipalities."

A single government-assisted refugee receives $735 per month, which includes a $375 shelter allowance and $124 transportation allowance. There's also a one-time start-up allowance of $735.

A couple is eligible for $1,125 per month in assistance as well as a $975 start-up allowance. Additional funding is available depending on the number of children.

Society plans New Welcome House

Meanwhile, the Immigrant Services Society is working with Henriquez Partners Architects and Terra Housing to create a 58,000-square-foot housing and support centre for refugees with or without legal status.

Located at 2610 Victoria Drive near the Commercial-Broadway Station, the new Welcome House would include 138 housing beds, a primary-care health clinic, classrooms and a computer lab for English-language learners, a legal clinic, a food bank, secondhand closing room, a commnity kitchen, and garden plots.

Funded with $8.5 million in provincial construction financing, it also has a $1-million contribution from Vancity and another $200,000 from the Edith Lando Foundation.

The City of Vancouver has supplied land valued at $3.4 million and the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. has provided more than $9 million in cash equity.

It broke ground last month and the grand opening is scheduled in June 2016.

Ground is shifting for refugee claimants

On April 1, 2014, the federal government took back its funding from the B.C. government for settlement services.

The report points out that refugee claimants are not eligible to become clients of Citizenship and Immigration under its rules.

"The B.C. government has contracted settlement agencies to provide services to CIC non eligible clients, including refugee claimants, from April 2014 to March 2015 but at this time, it is unknown if these funds will continue in future years," the report states.

This raises a question whether refugees will no longer be eligible for settlement services after the end of the B.C. government's fiscal year.

The uncertainty over settlement funds as well as federal cuts to refugee health care have "dramatically reshaped" the situation for refugee claimants, according to the report.

Privately sponsored and government-sponsored refugees are still covered for many medical services, including hospital, doctor, nursing, and laboratory services.

However as a result of Conservative government changes introduced in June 2012, these health services can only be provided to inland refugee claimants "if there is a risk to public health". Inland claimants also aren't covered for ambulance service, unlike refugees in the other two categories.

In 2012, the top five countries of origin for refugee claims in B.C. (as opposed to government-sponsored refugees) were China, Hungary, Honduras, Mexico, and India.

"Since a new refugee claim system was introduced in 2012, claims made in British Columbia have been substantially lower than in previous years," the report states.

For example, there were only 9,890 claims filed in 2013 across Canada, compared to 19,316 in 2012.

In B.C., the number of claims filed fell from 924 to 471 between 2012 and 2013.

Canada accepts small portion of world's refugees

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada accepted 23,094 refugees and their dependents in 2012.

Of those, 5,430 were government-assisted refugees resettled from other countries. The so-called GAR category was down 26 percent from the previous year.

Another 4,220 refugees to Canada in 2012 were privately sponsored; the remaining 13,444 and their dependents arrived as a result of claims filed on Canadian soil.

The report points out that the UN High Commission for Refugees estimated that there were 10.5 million refugees under its mandate in 2012.

The largest source coutry was Afghanistan with nearly 2.6 million, followed by Somalia with more than 1.1 million.

Iraq (746,200), Syria (729,000), and Sudan (568,900) rounded out the top five.

By a nearly two-to-one margin, Pakistan hosted the most refugees—1.6 million. Iran ranked second, followed by Germany, Kenya, and Syria.

Of those 10.5 million refugees, the UNHCR estimates that 800,000 needed to be resettled to other countries.

In 2012, only 89,000 of them were transferred to a third country.

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