Syrian refugee family resettles in Kamloops

Charitable groups prepare, educate the public and receive first Syrian family over the holidays

Graham Specht, Imam Mazhar Maqmood, Bill Sundhu, Faisal Siddiqui, Martha Ashbaugh and Paul Lagace take questions from the audience. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

Graham Specht, Imam Mazhar Maqmood, Bill Sundhu, Faisal Siddiqui, Martha Ashbaugh and Paul Lagace take questions from the audience. (Jim Elliot/The Omega)

Kamloops’ first refugee family fleeing the conflict in Syria arrived on Dec. 31. The family of five is privately sponsored and receiving support in adjusting to life in Canada by Refugees and Friends Together (RAFT) Kamloops.

According to RAFT representative Martha Ashbaugh, along with the Syrian family who arrived on Dec. 31, RAFT is committed to receiving at least two more families.

“The biggest ongoing issue is finding suitable affordable housing,” Ashbaugh said.

Ashbaugh said that this is difficult because the refugees are only provided with a monthly housing allowance of $750 per family of five.

RAFT has plenty of experience to draw on in helping the incoming Syrians settle in the Kamloops area, having aided people fleeing conflicts or persecution in Vietnam, Central America, Bosnia and Kosovo, Ashbaugh said.

All of the refugees currently expected in Kamloops are privately sponsored. All of the government-assisted refugees in B.C. are currently residing in the lower mainland or Kelowna, but RAFT would be happy to welcome them if any wanted to come to Kamloops.

In preparation for the arrival of the refugees, Kamloops Immigrant Services hosted a well-attended information session on Dec. 18. Approximately 100 people watched a presentation by representatives of the Syrian Canadian Council of B.C., followed by a panel discussion.

The presentation from the Syrian Canadian Council was delivered by Nader Abdullah and Rahim Ottman and provided information about Syria’s history and the causes of the ongoing conflict. In particular, the presentation dealt with the corruption of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the historical sites within Syria destroyed by ISIS.

Abdullah and Ottman also provided information on refugees coming from Syria.

“They are moderate. They are not ISIS,” Abdullah said, adding that refugees arriving in Canada will be a mixture of skilled tradespeople with useful skills who can’t speak English and educated people able to speak English.

“Find them a job and they will integrate right away,” Abdullah said.

Abdullah said that language was the most important factor in ensuring that the refugees integrated into the community. Both the availability of English classes and help from the local Arabic speaking community will be important.

According to Abdullah there are no Syrians currently living in Kamloops, so it is up to other local Arabic speakers, including TRU international students, to provide the newcomers with a community.

The event at Kamloops Immigrant Services featured a panel including local Imam Mazhar Mahmood, Kamloops Islamic Association President Faisal Siddiqui, human rights lawyer Bill Sundhu, Martha Ashbaugh of RAFT Kamloops and Paul Lagace of Kamloops Immigrant Services.

Questions fielded by the panel covered everything from security concerns to the state of fundraising efforts.

“The refugees that are coming have been in refugee camps for the past one, two or three years, sometimes even as long as four years. These are not the refugees that you see crossing into Greece and into Europe. They have been vetted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,” Sundhu said when asked if the refugees posed a security threat to Canada. Sundhu went on to say that once they are cleared by the UN, refugees are screened by the Canadian government in Jordan and Lebanon before being admitted into Canada.

According to Kamloops Immigrant Services representative Paul Lagace, The United Way, RAFT and Kamloops Immigrant Services are all fundraising to help the incoming Syrians.