Marking World Refugee Day (June 20) - OCOV's impact on Surrey's refugee strategy

June 20, 2017

Last year at this time we were marking the completion of a year-long community-based research project on refugee settlement needs in Surrey, called Our Community Our Voice (OCOV). Carried out by SFU together with more than 20 community partner organizations, OCOV was funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, through the Surrey Local Immigration Partnership (LIP). Our goal was to better understand the settlement and integration needs of our local refugees, and our results would help to inform the city of Surrey’s Refugee Integration Strategy.

A year after producing our report, and as we recognize World Refugee Day (June 20), it’s heartening to see that strategy proceeding. A series of goals, based on our report’s recommendations, will now guide the city as it continues to refine its approach and commitment to refugee settlement.

Among goals is the call to invest in the potential of refugee youth, helping them to thrive and grow, a key priority identified in our work. Indeed, our research was deeply impacted by the efforts of our young research assistants (RAs)—who were themselves refugees, trained to assist us by leading workshops and focus groups that would foster the voice of refugees. These RAs were the heart of the project—and evidence of how increasing opportunities for young refugees delivers huge benefits.

Our report helped to inform other strategic directions, such as the need to enhance service capacity and coordination. From what we learned about the needs of refugees, we identified ways to better use existing tools and resources to help with their settlement. Goals to support economic self-sufficiency and social inclusion were also major themes of our report. This integration is vital to Surrey’s identity as a global city, and how diversity and culture have and will continue to shape it.

Nearly 50 per cent of new refugee arrivals in B.C. make their way to Surrey as their new home. “The City of Surrey is aware of the importance of welcoming and including new immigrants and refugees as they start a new life in Canada,” says Councillor Judy Villeneuve, who worked closely with the OCOV team. “We are committed to creating a community in which everyone has a sense of belonging and opportunities to participate and contribute.”

The theme of Surrey’s refugee needs was a key discussion point at the recently held C2U Expo 2017 – For the Common Good. During the conference opening, held over two days at the Surrey campus, delegates were invited to learn about the city’s Immigrant Advisory Roundtable, their work in supporting refugee settlement and integration in the city, and to share their ideas for improving the lives of newcomers.

Meanwhile, SFU’s Refugee Working Group, established in response to the global refugee crisis, is providing support for refugee students, informing the campus community and connecting with external stakeholders.

As members of an engaged University, I can think of no greater satisfaction than to see authentic community partnerships making a difference in the lives of others, including those who want to feel they are ‘home’, that they belong, and have something to offer. As we celebrate World Refugee Day, I’m certain that these next steps will make a world of difference, not only to refugees but to our communities as well.

Steve Dooley
Executive Director, SFU's Surrey Campus