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Young Syrian refugees in Vancouver worried about housing, education

The downtown Vancouver skyline. The recommendations from 60 Syrian refugess, between the ages of 15 and 24, are part of a report released Tuesday by the non-profit Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Young Syrian refugees who came to the Vancouver region in the past year say they're concerned about the high cost of housing and the difficulty navigating a complex education system – two issues they say governments should address.

Their recommendations, included in a report released Tuesday by the non-profit Immigrant Services Society of B.C., come as the province readies for an additional 1,200 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, on top of the more than 2,500 who have settled in the province in less than 12 months.

The immigrant settlement agency prepared the report by consulting with nearly 60 Syrian refugees. The refugees, between the ages of 15 and 24, arrived in this province between November of last year and February.

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The refugees made two primary recommendations, one involving housing, the other involving education.

On housing, the refugees expressed concern about high rental prices and lack of space for large families.

"There is a need for a housing strategy for new refugee families destined to cities in the Lower Mainland to address the many challenges refugee families face," the report said.

On education, the refugees said there was a great deal of confusion about how the system works in Canada.

"Many felt lost and unsure of what their next steps are in finishing high school, enrolling in postsecondary courses, and how to connect all of this to finding employment," the report said.

The report said many of the refugees were also frustrated with the lack of information when it came to obtaining credit for courses and diplomas completed prior to arrival in Canada.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in a statement said it agrees finding affordable housing in some parts of the country can be a challenge.

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However, it said the federal government has committed to re-establishing its role in supporting affordable housing through the development of a national housing strategy.

"IRCC is working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to ensure that the needs of immigrants and refugees are considered as part of the national housing strategy," the statement read.

"IRCC continues to work with our service provider organizations to monitor the housing situation of Syrian and other resettled refugees."

The statement said education is a provincial responsibility and it would be up to the B.C. government to comment on that aspect of the report.

The B.C. government did not immediately provide a response.

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society, said between last November and the beginning of August the province welcomed 2,646 Syrian refugees. Nearly three-quarters were government-assisted refugees.

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The IRCC website said more than 32,400 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since November, 2015.

Mr. Friesen said another 1,200 Syrian government-assisted refugees are expected to arrive in B.C. within the next 2 1/2 months.

He said he believes some of the challenges that arose when Syrian refugees arrived in B.C. in large numbers late last year and early this year – such as lengthy stays in hotel rooms – will not be an issue this time around.

"As far as the immediate reception support phase, we're confident that we've ironed out a number of issues that existed in the first phase," he said in an interview.

Mr. Friesen said he has heard from older Syrian refugees about housing and education, but has also fielded concerns about the family reunification process, as well as mental health and trauma supports.

The report also recommended employment programs for young refugees, and the waiving of transportation loans for all refugees in Canada.

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