Freshly here from the chaos and bloodshed they left behind in Syria, a dozen refugees gathered in a North Surrey hotel this week to describe their experience in Canada.
They were at a press gathering as local grocer Fruiticana donated bags of groceries to the families.
Fruiticana founder Tony Singh committed to provide enough groceries to feed 500 families for seven to nine days.
Ola Katabi has been here just two weeks,and says she loves Canada.
“It’s natural,” the 15-year-old said as she beamed. “It’s beautiful.”
It’s a far cry from where she just left.
“In Syria, it’s difficult,” Katabi said.
It’s an understatement coming from a girl fleeing a country gripped in a complex civil war, where millions of innocent people are bombed indiscriminately.
The world, including Canada, has snapped to attention since atrocities have come to light. As part of a federal Liberal campaign promise in last fall’s election, 25,000 refugees are heading to Canada in the coming months.
Many have already arrived and more are to come, with hundreds expected to settle in Surrey.
Scores of them are being housed temporarily at a hotel. One of the biggest barriers, they say, is becoming familiar with the new language.
Katpahi Abdelrazqe spoke through an interpreter and said language is definitely the biggest hurdle he faces.
“So far, I can’t pinpoint any (significant) challenges,” he said. “Language is definitely the biggest.”
His six children, aged two to 12, are content and are looking forward to getting back to school, Abdelrazque said.
“God willing, they are very happy to be going to school this year and continuing their education.”
The growing refugee contingent was the subject of a public forum in Surrey earlier this week.
On Wednesday night, about 350 people packed Fleetwood Park Secondary School to discuss how they could help refugees heading to the city.
Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve said she was delightfully surprised by the large turnout at the event, which was hosted in part by the city.
In addition to the city, officials with the province, immigration workers and police were also on hand to field questions.
Villeneuve, a long-time social advocate in Surrey, is pleased with how the refugee settlement is unfolding.
The City of Surrey has been swamped with calls from people looking for ways to help. The forum was intended to provide clarity on what could be done.
“We had an overwhelming level of support from the community,” Villeneuve said in an interview with The Leader on Thursday.
The forum connected those interested with agencies that could accept their assistance. The city is acting as a facilitator.
Surrey RCMP Officer in Charge Bill Fordy gave a presentation to the crowd, noting the Mounties expect no security problems with the new arrivals.
Most of the refugees who have arrived are women and children, Villeneuve noted.
“So far, 60 per cent are under 18,” she said. “And one in four are under five.
“Right now there are 80 children (in Surrey),” Villeneuve said, adding the school district has indicated it will be able to accommodate the youngsters.
The city is planning to schedule another information gathering in the coming months as more refugees arrive.
“In the spring, we will probably be doing a welcoming event,” Villeneuve said. “We’re just trying to be as supportive as possible.”