Syrian refugees touching down in London

lloy wylie

Some have been jailed and tortured; others, sexually assaulted while their children were forced to watch.

Some fled their homes and homeland years ago and — their hope rising and falling with the passage of time — have waited in refugee camps for the world to take notice.

It’s not just shelter these 100 Syrian refugee families coming to London will need, but support in dealing with a range of traumas inconceivable to most Canadians.

And though large teams of volunteers are working out logistics of winter coats and English-language classes when families arrive in coming months, some area professionals also are working to meet needs of the psyche and soul for people who have been dislocated and relocated.

Here’s how London professionals are preparing to help and how regular Londoners can help:


“There’s a lot for (refugees) to deal with,” said Lloy Wylie, an assistant professor in the master’s of public health program at Western University.

“In the past five years in London alone, people are saying there’s a higher level of trauma (among refugees) than they’ve ever seen.”

Wylie is helping lead a team that includes mental-health professionals from London Health Sciences Centre, London Inter-Community Health Centre and the Cross-Cultural Learner Centre to help refugees and immigrants.

Traditionally, many mental health supports are based in hospitals. But that can be difficult for people who mistrust institutions or who need cultural and family supports as much as medical care.

Wylie said mental-health care for refugees can instead be part of community settlement services that include language, employment and cultural support.

“That way we can get around the stigma and we can be there, where people are looking for a variety of services.”


Beyond the professional supports, schools, neighbours and faith communities also can help, Wylie said. “Show an interest in who these people are and what’s important to them.”

A community that is welcoming can make an enormous difference, said Dr. Bhooma Bhayana, a London family doctor who volunteers with the Newcomer Health Program, a collaboration among local doctors, clinics and cultural centres.

“Some of the studies on refugees have shown that over time, just being in a supportive environment with social supports makes all the difference, even more than (formalized) mental health care,” Bhayana said.

For friends and neighbours of refugees, “it’s not necessary to delve into the history of trauma but merely to be a social support, to say, ‘Here, you are safe.’ ”


The newcomer health clinic has seven doctors and two nurse practitioners who help with immediate medical needs of refugees such as diabetes management or blood-pressure control, Bhayana said.

They also see some chronic illnesses and routine child health issues that may have gone untreated while the families were in refugee camps, she said.

Several family doctors have also said they will make room in their practices for the newcomers.

Most immunizations will be up-do-date, and infectious-disease screening and treatment will already have taken place before they arrive, Bhayana said.


Stresses refugees and immigrants may experience:

  • relocation anxiety
  • culture shock
  • climate adjustment
  • loss of extended-family supports
  • post-traumatic stress disorder from seeing or experiencing extreme violence
  • loss of social status and social mobility
  • non-recognition of professional credentials
  • grief at the deaths of, or separation from, family members and friends


About 60 Londoners helping with refugee resettlement will gather Wednesday for a training session on how the community can help refugees and immigrants who struggle with mental illness and addiction.

The group will include English-as-a-second-language teachers, faith leaders and settlement workers who will receive training on how they can recognize the stresses refugees face.

The refugees will include business professionals and people with no credentials and little education.

“You can imagine a huge range of trauma they’ve faced during their experience,” said Michele Manocchi, project co-ordinator of the Seeds of Change project that is running the session.

The idea, he said is to provide attendees with simple strategies they can use, and can pass along to their colleagues who also work with refugees.


  • London Mayor Matt Brown is among 100 community leaders expected to gather in Ottawa Tuesday for a briefing on Canadian efforts to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada.
  • Gov.-Gen. David Johnson will be host of the forum that will include private- and public-sector leaders from across Canada.
  • Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Monday the province is prepared to take roughly 4,000 of the 10,000 Syrian refugees set to arrive in Canada by the end of the year.
  • the province was looking at using recently decommissioned hospitals to house refugees on an interim basis, but now they may not be needed, he said.

Link to London Free Press