COLUMN: Sikh community steps up to help refugees

Surrey residents join together to provide support for thousands of refugees expected to arrive in city soon.

The Sikh community is stepping up to the plate to ensure that Syrian refugees get off to a good start when they come to Canada.

Newly elected Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who represents Surrey Centre in the House of Commons, convened a meeting last weekend to see what support could be offered to the about 3,000 refugees who are expected in B.C. within the next few months. About 30 representatives of various organizations have pledged a wide variety of support, from accommodation to transportation, child care and education.

Services for children are of particular importance. Surrey is expected to be the destination for many of the refugees, perhaps 1,000 or more. School spaces and child care spaces are in short supply here, as a number of recent reports have pointed out. Surrey’s continuing growth and large number of young families means expansion of such services is constantly falling  behind.

Surrey schools gained about 700 more students in September than had been expected, and numerous schools are already overcrowded. While there is space available in some schools, transportation options are often very limited.

This is particularly true for refugee families, who will not have vehicles.

The Khalsa School, which has two campuses in Surrey, has offered free tuition for a year for up to 1,000 students. This very generous offer would take a great deal of pressure off the public school system in Surrey.

The Khalsa School already operates an extensive bus system to bring students from all over the Lower Mainland to its campuses, so transportation would also be taken care of for students.

In addition, the Sikh community, which has organized as the Sikh Societies of B.C. to help the new arrivals, is offering 100 child-care spaces. These will be greatly appreciated by single parents in particular, who will be dealing with a lot of meetings and other situations, which are difficult to manage without child care.

The organizations have pledged to find free housing for up to 200 families. This too will relieve a lot of pressure, as housing is both hard to come by (particularly for refugees) and expensive in the Lower Mainland. Housing that is close to schools and public transit will be particularly welcomed.

Various Sikh gurdwaras in Surrey and other communities are collecting food, blankets, clothing and other supplies from members of their congregations.

“Welcoming others, newcomers, was part of their life, whether they knew them or not. Whether immigrants came from India, or whether they were refugees in tumultuous times in the 1980s, the Sikh way, the Canadian way, was always to give them a home, help them at the temple and help feed them,” Sarai said of the generosity pledged by the various societies.

Many other organizations are also working hard to prepare for the influx of refugees. The Liberal government has backed off its campaign pledge to have 25,000 admitted to Canada by Dec. 31, but still expects that many people to have arrived here by Feb. 29.

Thus far, it appears that individuals and community organizations are far ahead of the government in making preparations for the refugees, and they are determined to make them feel welcome when they arrive in Canada.

Make no mistake. This type of generosity is important. Thus far, 2.1 million homes, 7,000 schools and half of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed. As many as 250,000 are dead, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria and another four million have fled the country.

The Syrian refugees have endured some terrible moments in the past four years, and the type of welcome they receive here will be key in making it easier for them to adapt to life in a new country.

The Sikh organizations are a fine example of Canadian generosity. That generosity is one reason so many people from all parts of the world have come here. These generous groups have set an example that many others will follow.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for Peace Arch News. frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

 

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