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Bus strike creates unique challenges for local refugees

Mohammed Al-Shahoud and his wife Sara came to Kelowna from Syria last summer. All seven people in their family need updated dental X-rays.
November 22, 2016 - 4:40 PM

KELOWNA – The bus strike in the Central Okanagan is having a dire effect on a group of people who already face enormous challenges.

There are currently more than 100 refugees living in the Central Okanagan. New to the country, most don’t speak English and they certainly don’t have a lot of money.

Francis Langevin is the acting chair of the Refugee Sponsors Network of the Central Okanagan. He says the bus strike is impeding refugees’ ability to integrate.

“When they get here the help is generally limited to 12 months,” he says. “During those 12 months they get support for rent, clothes and there is a network of people ready to… drive them around the first few months but as the months go by we want our newcomer friends to become autonomous.”

The longer the strike drags on, he says, the more time is wasted for his refugees.

Many of the refugees who don’t have vehicles or drivers licenses use public transit for almost everything.

“Doctors’ appointments, dentist appointments and people are not going to classes,” he says. “We can usually find a way to get them to work but all the activities in the family is too demanding for volunteers to accommodate.”

Cultural differences are also complicating the situation.

“Culturally it’s very different,” he says. “In Syria the government has a little more power over those things and because they already receive so much help they feel like they can’t really complain.”

The Refugee Sponsors Network of the Central Okanagan is a multi-faith organization that sponsors and helps refugees from all over the world. There are currently 120 refugees in the Central Okanagan network, 75 per cent are under age 11.

The Allied Transit Union 1722 went on strike Nov. 10. 

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