Surrey Welcomes One and All to the Community

Surrey is home to over 450 thousand people, and approximately 40.5% of this population reports being born outside of Canada. Surrey also receives the most refugees than anywhere else in British Columbia. The statistics are indicative of rapid growth of the newcomer population, and with growth comes rapid change.

Findings from recent research in Surrey showed that quality settlement services were only half the issue; it was now about creating a climate of receptivity in Surrey. Prior to 2012, countless projects were being implemented by settlement agencies throughout Surrey to attend to the needs of newcomers, but a unified, collective effort that included broader community oriented organizations, such as the City of Surrey, the RCMP, and the school district, to create a more welcoming environment had yet to come.

The City of Surrey made it a priority to ensure that the community promoted inclusivity and respect so newcomers felt valued and welcomed to the city they now call home. With this, the Surrey Welcoming Communities Project (SWCP) got underway in 2012, which paved the way for some remarkable changes that led to reduced stigmatism towards newcomers.

“Very proud and entirely enthusiastic about the diversity of the stakeholders that formed the Surrey Welcoming Communities Committee…you get the folks who are always going to come, which tend to be the service agencies, and certainly they were well represented on the committee and should be, but we were also able to get enthusiastic participation and attendance, and belonging, and contributions from the post-secondary, the RCMP, the business community, and education… it really made it a strong, strong stakeholder committee.” ~ Trevor Van Eerden, PEERs Inc.

Partnerships & Stakeholders

The following organizations and entities have representatives who are part of the Surrey Welcoming Communities Committee:

Summary of the Process

As part of the Province’s WelcomeBC, Welcoming Communities Program, 51 communities throughout BC received funding to support the integration of immigrants. The City of Surrey was one of these communities as they recognized that immigrant integration is both a social and economic community sustainability issue that has wide impact on the city.

The SWCP raised the opportunity for multiple sectors of the community to come together at one table to work towards a common vision: “spark a fundamental change in attitudes and actions towards immigrants and refugees as they face the challenge of creating a new life in our communities” [1]. Twenty-five local partners came together to create the Surrey Welcoming Communities Committee. The project began by creating Surrey’s Welcoming Communities Action Plan, which would serve as a guiding document that outlined the actions and projects that would be implemented in the short one-year time frame. Due to major changes to provincial immigration services after the federal government did not renew the Canada-BC Immigration Agreement, the timeframe for implementing the Action Plan was only one year.  In the face of this challenge, this enthusiastic group held the power and capacity to stimulate positive social change in the community and pursue their ambitious Action Plan. They proudly worked as a cohesive unit to deliver a number of programs that would work to instill cultural harmony, trust, and mutual prosperity in the city.

To achieve the overarching vision, numerous creative projects were developed and implemented between March 2013 and March 2014, which included the following:

  • Youth Engagement Project
    • The Surrey Leadership Action Conference (SLAC) was a youth-led initiative that invited young people to generate ideas on helping newcomers feel a sense of belonging in the city. This conference stimulated further action such as a Poverty Action Team, development of workshops for youth, and attendance at other leadership camps.
  • Youth Led Welcoming Communities Social Media Project
    • To bring this project to the world of social media, a team of youth shared their experiences and perspectives through the development of three videos. The following short movies were developed by this passionate group of youth:
  • Refugee Myth Busting Campaign
    • There are many myths that lead to stereotypes and racism towards refugees. Surrey sought to challenge these perceptions through a myth busting campaign. Research with refugees, Educator Training Sessions, and an exhibit entitled Surrey- A Place of Refuge was hosted at the Surrey Museum to reach out to the broader community.
  • Welcoming Spaces and Workplaces Reviews
    • Access to workplaces, community amenities, and services  means that the environment is welcome to diverse cultures. Thirty newcomer volunteer reviewers helped to rate thirty different business and community locations using a survey checklist to assess whether or not they felt welcome in that location.
  • Employer and Business Presentations and Forums
    • Finding stable employment is one of the greatest challenges for newcomers, and addressing this was one of the priorities  for the SWCP.  Presentations at business events and a forum created dialogue between newcomers and Surrey employers to raise awareness about immigrant skills, debunk myths about employability, and understand workplace barriers.
  • Service Provider Welcoming Communities Events
    • Hundreds of people in Surrey are working diligently to create a more welcoming environment for newcomers, and the latest knowledge and resources are needed to assist newcomers settle in the city. A service provider networking event and a service provider conference reached over 400 service providers to enhance the welcoming nature of Surrey and to put them in touch with the resources they need to improve their services.
  • Welcoming Communities Dialogues Inspired by Cooking and Food
    • Between October 2013 and February 2014, the City of Surrey, Surrey Parks, Recreation & Culture, and six community service agencies collaborated to host six culinary events. Various cultural dishes such as those from Korea, India, China, Africa and Middle East were created. Over these delicious meals, attendees had the opportunity to engage in discussion about the challenges faced by Surrey newcomers.

Although the provincial Welcoming Communities Program has ended,  the Surrey committee has continued to work together to form the new Local Immigration Partnership (LIP), which has received funding for the next two years from the federal government. LIP will continue their endeavors by conducting research and consultations toward the development of a Surrey Immigrant Integration Strategic Plan and the Surrey Refugee Settlement and Integration Plan.

Key Outcomes & Impacts

  • Approximately 10,000 people viewed the Surrey – A Place of Refugee exhibit at the Surrey Museum and 600 teachers and education staff participated in refugee myth busting workshops.  Chris Friesen from ISSBC presented the elements of this campaign to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) Settlement Group as an example of a good practice in promoting social inclusion.  
  • Over 700 people within the business sector were reached with the Business and Employers Presentations. Many were eager to learn more and requested copies of the information to share with their colleagues and adopt into their practices.
  • 200 people attended the Welcoming Communities Dialogues Inspired by Cooking and Food. Many of these participants reported that their perspectives had shifted.
  • During the Welcoming Spaces Project, newcomers assessed various spaces and provided recommendations to the space owners. Now, many of these places have stated that they are looking translate these recommendations into action.
  • The service provider events attracted 163 participants, representing 43 different agencies or organizations.

For more information, please contact:

Trevor Van Eerden
PEERs Inc., Principal
T: 604.765.4621

Aileen Murphy
City of Surrey Senior Social Planner, Planning & Development
T: 604.591.4315

Additional Resources


[1] Welcoming Communities Project. (2014). About us: Overview of BC Welcoming Communities Initiative. Retrieved from on June 1, 2014.

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