Of the 1,938 government-assisted Syrian refugees who made their way to B.C. since last November, only four have established roots in Richmond, the province’s fourth largest city.
“The number one reason is housing,” said Chris Friesen, settlement services director at the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
“Although there had been keen interest from refugees in settling in Richmond, our housing search team found it difficult to find affordable, low-cost housing,” said Friesen.
By comparison, Burnaby, with only a slightly higher population than Richmond, has 118 refugees from the war-torn country.
Vancouver has 114 such refugees and leading the way is Surrey, with 800. Meanwhile, Richmond is on par with Naramata (pop. 2,000).
Friesen said ISS of B.C. initially set up a temporary reception site in Richmond last year, and had a full team scouting locations for the Syrians. However, they couldn’t find accommodations.
“Many would have liked to remain in Richmond, but financially they had no choice,” he said.
The most recent reported rental vacancy rate in Richmond, according to the Metro Vancouver regional government, is 0.3 per cent.
Friesen’s organization said refugees were also placed with the help of volunteer landlords and home owners. He said there were an estimated 700 offers of housing in B.C., mostly in the Lower Mainland. He said he didn’t have specific numbers for Richmond.
Friesen noted many of the offers were for single refugees and, thus, most were refused because the Canadian government targeted families.
ISS of B.C. only handles government-assisted refugees. And yet, the figures for privately-sponsored refugees in Richmond are relatively low, as well.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), Richmond has 19 privately-sponsored refugees.
By comparison, Vancouver has 68, Burnaby has 63 and Surrey has 49.
Friesen said a refugee family of four is given about $750 for housing and $650 for basic needs per month, for one year.
Sixty per cent of Syrian refugees in B.C., to July, have been under the age of 18. Forty-seven per cent of them settled in the Fraser Valley, including Surrey.