Edmonton is by and large a welcoming city when it comes to Syrian refugees, according to community groups, but refugees are still facing a multitude of challenges trying to settle in Edmonton, including language barriers and access to health services.

Ammar Jouma, 17, and his family are experiencing these obstacles weekly. Jouma’s brother is anemic, resulting in routine hospital visits. 

“My little brother knows English good, but not the hospital language. So we have really difficulties (sic) in hospital to understand what they are saying or what we want to explain to them (sic),” Jouma said.

Jouma's concerns about language barriers were shared alongside a panel of stakeholders which spoke in front of a city committee Wednesday.

“In terms of health, we just don’t have any support from the province here,” said Rhianna Charchuk, an advocate for refugee health.

She said some of the issues revolve around physicians who don’t speak Arabic or have experience dealing with tropical diseases, adding there is a “significant disparity” between the services offered in Alberta’s two largest cities.

Calgary has a health centre which specializes in helping refugees – a service she believes Edmonton lost when services moved away from the New Canadians Clinic. 

"There are been many issues in Edmonton with women who have female genital mutilation giving birth and the health care providers not understanding how to support that woman properly,” she explained.

‘It’s just ridiculous’ 

The province moved refugee health services to the East Edmonton Health Centre in the spring of 2017.

Councillor Scott McKeen said it is up to city council to advocate for improved services for newcomers.

“I think it is up to city council to raise these issues and to raise them with a fairly loud voice to the province. It’s just ridiculous that Calgary would have a critical health service for refugees and Edmonton does not,” he said.

Alberta Health Services said the East Edmonton Health Centre is still serving refugees and feedback has been positive, adding the services have since been enhanced by offering newcomers access to physicians, translators, dieticians and nurses.

“Of course the goal is to ensure all people who live in Edmonton and in Alberta get access to the right care at the right place with the right expertise,” said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Hoffman said she will be following up on some of the concerns raised.

As of January 29, 2017, 40,081 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada and 2,550 of them have settled in Edmonton.

With files from Dan Grummett