Two Types of Refugees, Two levels of Support
Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When it comes to starting a new life in Canada, some Syrian refugees are luckier than others.

When Amjad Ktifan and his family moved out of the Surrey hotel that had been their first home in Canada, they felt cut adrift in a strange, new world.

Ktifan had hoped to move into Surrey’s Guildford neighbourhood, where the hotel was and where other Syrians he had met were settling. But a settlement worker with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., the agency tasked with finding homes for all government-assisted Syrian refugees, placed them in North Delta, an hour’s bus ride from the only community they had known in this country.

Shortly after the move, Ktifan’s wife, Wadaa, gave birth to twins. Their family of five was now a family of seven and they were living in a two-bedroom basement suite, which was uncomfortably hot because the family had no access to the thermostat, which was upstairs.

“It felt like you were walking into a sauna,” said Zack Mahra, an outreach worker with SUCCESS who is originally from Syria and met the Ktifan family translating for The Sun when the twins were born.

Not long after they returned home from the hospital, a sewage pipe sprung a leak and the apartment flooded. There were newborn babies in the house and a woman who was recovering from a C-section. The family does not speak English and did not know who to call.

Help came in the form of a Vancouver Sun reader who had experience with government-assisted refugees and asked to be put in touch with the family in case they needed assistance. That reader, who did not want to be named, happened to arrive the day the apartment flooded. With help from translator Mahra, this woman got the family out of their flooded apartment and into a Guildford hotel where other Syrians were staying. She made sure Wadaa received medical attention and that the family was put in touch with Options Community Services, who arranged for the apartment to be thoroughly cleaned and repaired.

The family returned six days later to find the thermostat fixed and apartment habitable, but still too small for a family of seven.

Contrast that with the Cholakian family, who were privately sponsored by an Armenian church in Richmond. They were selected not because they were in urgent need of evacuation — both Asbed and his wife Mania had jobs in Lebanon, where they fled when life became too dangerous in Aleppo — but because they knew someone in the congregation.

The congregation’s Papazian family signed on to support Cholakians, who speak fluent English and have two sons, aged 11 and 7. They helped them find housing, a bright, spacious two-bedroom apartment in Burnaby, and helped Asbed find a job in construction. The family calls every day to see if they need anything and occasionally surprises them with gifts, Mania said.

“We were very glad to see them in the airport and we felt very welcome and happy ... we feel that they are very heart close to us,” Asbed said. “They supported us morally and financially sometimes. They took us shopping, helped us to know some places for shopping.”

The Richmond church, which has welcomed about 80 Syrian refugees since Nov. 4, helps with the settlement process in other ways, such as offering English classes and covering the cost of summer camp for refugee children, said the church’s pastor, Father Hayr Hrant.

The Al- Gburi family in White Rock is similarly supported by a south Surrey congregation. The Gracepoint church group found them a three-bedroom duplex and formed a committee to provide the support they need to start their life in Canada. They had cleaned up the backyard and stocked the fridge with food before the family arrived, and also raised enough money to support the family of eight for six months. The federal government supports the family for the other six months, in what’s known as a blended visa office referral.

The stories illustrate the stark difference in support for refugees, like the Ktifan family, who are government assisted, compared with those like the Cholakians, who are privately sponsored.

Government-assisted refugees are selected by the United Nations based on the basis of vulnerability. This means Canada is unlikely to get “people who are fluent in seven languages and have PhDs” through this stream, as Immigration Minister John McCallum recently told The Sun’s editorial board, but rather the people who are in the most desperate circumstances. When they arrive, they receive support from settlement workers and from the federal government, but this is not the same as having a family or a community to lean on for support during what is often a difficult and stressful transition.


Read full article here