Well over 800 Syrian refugees have now settled in Manitoba as part of Ottawa’s promise to bring 25,000 to the country.
The Winnipeg School Division has taken in about 80 students with 20 of them attending Victoria Albert School on Ellen Street near William Avenue.
Education Assistant Rosa Messina works with EAL (English as an Additional Language) students, the bulk being refugees who have fled Syria.
Most of them cannot speak a word of English and at the start it can be a challenge for both Messina and her students.
“I think the biggest thing is gaining their trust and giving them the confidence,” Messina said.
“As soon as they start seeing that they are learning it gives them confidence to learn more and they learn quite quickly.”
The lessons for the newcomers are basic: identifying colours or simple objects on flash cards. Messina also teaches them basic communication for when they are in a class with the English-speaking students.
“If they don’t have that vocabulary they’re not going to be able to function properly, but they’re day is just as normal and just the same as any other student in the school,” Messina said.
“They’re with their friends, they build relationships and with their teacher in the classroom.”
One of her students is 8 year old Hala. She arrived in Winnipeg in January with her three siblings and her parents.
Her father, Ammar, still remember escaping from Syria to Jordan after the war erupted. He spent three years in Jordan before coming to Canada.
“We were placed in a refugee camp,” Ammar said through an interpreter.
“The refugee camps are very tragic and the conditions there are so very bad.”
The Manitoba Government says of the 819 refugees living in the province, 661 are government assisted and among those 460 have been moved into permanent housing.
The refugee response team is still looking for three to five bedroom units to accommodate families like Ammar’s.
He hopes he can stay in Winnipeg if he learns the language and gets a job.
“Very peaceful, very kind people, they contribute too and they helped us at so many different levels,” Ammar said through the interpreter.
Manitoba can expect to receive another 600 to 1,100 refugees by the end of the year.