A new brochure for asylum seekers would have made a “huge difference” for Noor Sakhniya when he arrived in Ottawa from Syria to seek asylum two year ago.
“At first it was very hard for me since I did not know where to go.… I ended up stranded and sleeping on the street in Ottawa for about [12 days] after I ran out of money,” he told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning Wednesday.
Settlement agencies including the Refugee Network of Ottawa found refugee claimants generally didn’t know the first steps to take upon arrival, such as where to go for shelter, to buy clothes or to seek help with paperwork.
“With the rise in refugee claimants, many of them weren’t first accessing a settlement service or reception centre,” said Kailee Brennan, who works with the network.
“They might first be at a city-run homeless centre or presenting at a health clinic or a bus station. They don’t have access to this type of information, and people like Noor feel like there aren’t services available.”
The brochure offers basic information about:
- How to contact settlement agencies.
- Where to find food banks and affordable meals.
- How to access financial assistance.
- Charities that offer free clothing.
- How to access emergency shelter.
- Where to get help with refugee claims.
- How to contact a lawyer.
- How to get around town.
- How to access health care services.
- How to sign up children for school.
- Where to go for language lessons.
- How to report a crime.
Sakhniya, who now has a job with Ottawa’s Catholic Centre for Immigrants, said having some of those answers would have been a huge help when he first arrived, two years ago to the day.
“It would actually have made it faster for me to access services in the city,” he told host Robyn Bresnahan. “I had problems with transportation, so it would have really helped out.”
The brochure is “low-tech” on purpose because many of the people who will find it most useful don’t have access to the internet when they first arrive, Brennan said. The paper format makes it easier to distribute at shelters and other locations.
For now it’s only in English and French, but the network is working on printing it in other languages.