In 2008, Canada agreed to resettle 5000 Bhutanese refugees over a four-year- period from camps in Nepal, for the first time. The NGO, Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISS of BC), decided to organise a pre-arrival community planning forum. The aim of the planning forum was to inform the community and mainstream services about the arrival of the Bhutanese refugees, to involve them in the process and coordinate a welcome for the newly arriving refugees. In preparation, forum organisers consulted the local Nepalese community
and gathered information on the Bhutanese group. Ninety participants from NGOs, local authorities, government, health authorities, schools, former refugees, faith based organisations and churches were involved in the forum. Forum activities included small group discussions on themes such as: where to house the refugees, available youth programmes, strategies to engage the local community and how to ensure a welcoming environment (see annex 9 for the forum agenda).
Prior to the Bhutanese group, British Columbia had resettled Karen refugees from Burma/Myanmar. At that time, there had been a lack of communication with local stakeholders and
limited advance notice was given to schools of their arrival. Due to the lack of pre-arrival planning, culturally responsive services were not put in place and there was negative media
reporting, in the absence of accurate information being passed to the media.
As a result of the forum, welcome signs were put up in schools and the local Mayor wrote a personalised welcome letter to each of the refugees. Public education workshops were held
through churches and other faith communities, for the local community to learn more about the Bhutanese refugees, and also to recruit volunteers to support refugees. As part of the
forum ISS of BC also developed links with the local media, which published various articles on the Bhutanese arrivals42. The media travelled to Nepal to visit a Bhutanese refugee camp and
interview a family, which they then followed up during their first year in Vancouver. A survey of outcomes of Bhutanese resettlement experiences has been carried out, documenting the prearrival
activities and the initial resettlement outcomes43, with an action plan for future use.
Raising awareness and understanding in the local community about who their new neighbours are, where they have come from and how it is possible to assist them, is important for
integration and community relations. Informing the community about the background and needs of refugee groups, and facilitating interactions between refugees and the receiving
community can help to dispel myths, break down cultural barriers and motivate people to volunteer to support refugees.