Refugees start to arrive in B.C. to warm welcomes

Mennonite Central Committee estimates 75 Syrian families could settle in Fraser Valley

An emotional first encounter between a newly arrived Syrian refugee family and their local Mennonite church sponsors Monday night is expected to be replicated for weeks and months to come at YVR and other B.C. airports.

A handful of new Syrian refugees have arrived in B.C. in recent days and around 30 more are expected by the end of this week, according to Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Monday’s arrivals at Vancouver International Airport – a Syrian couple and their 18-month-old son destined for an apartment in Richmond – were met with hugs, gifts and ‘Welcome to Canada’ signs in English and Arabic.

The father, Samer Alragheb, speaking through a translator, said it was his dream to come to Canada and have his son take his first steps here.

Gerd Bartel, a Ladner resident who is part of the local church sponsor group and also heads donor relations for the Mennonite Central Committee in Abbotsford, predicts similar scenes will unfold across B.C. and fuel the already intense appetite of B.C. residents to sponsor refugees.

“Three young moms from our church were all there and they brought all the other little children. They had three-year-olds giving presents to the new little one-year-old,” he recounted.

“This welcoming of hugs and presents – that’s what the power of families connecting with families can do.”

Bartel said the Fraser Valley is proving particularly fertile ground, with new groups of prospective sponsors – some church-based, some not – emerging daily to seek Mennonite Central Committee organizational help.

He estimates at least 75 Syrian refugee families are likely to be sponsored in the Fraser Valley over the next year, many of them settling in Abbotsford-Mission or Chilliwack.

“Just about every night someone’s heading to another group to talk and help them set up,” he said.

Rent is much more affordable in the Fraser Valley than Vancouver and Bartel is confident a strong community network  will be in place, along with appropriate worship space for Muslims even in communities without mosques.

Sponsor groups typically arrange housing, furniture and other needs as well as a significant amount of cash – typically $25,000-plus – to cover rent and groceries for a year.

Donations are in some cases funnelled to some sponsor groups from other people who want to help financially but can’t form their own group.

MCC has acted as intermediary for numerous sponsor groups with the federal government.

“A large part of them aren’t part of the Mennonite community,” Bartel added. “We’re just facilitating for anybody.”

He once helped resettle six families of Vietnamese boat people 35 years ago and says Canada is much better organized this time.

Syrian families arriving now land with Arabic interpreters standing by at the airport, and usually Arabic-speaking doctors already arranged for them. Health coverage is provided by B.C. immediately without a wait period.

Bartel noted the Canadian response is in stark contrast to that of the U.S., where his Mennonite counterparts are gloomy about their dim prospects to welcome Syrians.

“It’s kind of sad when you’ve got the largest economy and strongest country in the world and refugees aren’t coming.”

Friesen said large numbers of Syrians arriving in Canada by the plane load could begin by January.

Incoming refugees land initially in Montreal or Toronto and may spend a night or two at a military base before flying to B.C.

About 200 additional government-assisted refugees to come to B.C. by the end of the year, in additiuon to the ones that are privately sponsored.

Friesen said the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. has had 460 offers of rooms in private homes to house refugees.

“Quite a few of the housing leads are in north Delta, which is a non-traditional destination.”

Samer Alragheb and his wife and son at YVR Monday.

Surrey North Delta Leader

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Police’s role in Barnston Island still needs ‘to be looked at’

Surrey RCMP polices unincorporated island a short ferry ride across Parson’s Channel

Surrey looking into reducing residential speed limits

Surrey city council on Feb. 24 approved five ‘key pillars’ of a Surrey Transportation Plan

‘We have to triage’: Surrey teachers stage ‘walk-in’ to support public education

Teachers raising awareness after more than one year at the bargaining table

Suspected drugs, counterfeit cash seized during distracted driving stop: Surrey RCMP

Police said incident happened near 152nd Street and Fraser Highway

Fate of five-district policing model in Surrey rests with new police board

Whalley/City Centre, Guildford/Fleetwood, Newton, Cloverdale, and South Surrey districts formed under McCallum’s watch in 1998

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

B.C. mother, daughter return home after coronavirus quarantine in Asia

Jensine Morabito and her daughter were on Holland America’s Westerdam but did not catch the virus

Leap Year means we get an extra day in February, so how are you spending it?

People online have a number of suggestions and plans on how they will be spending Saturday

Greta sticker that drew outrage in Alberta not child pornography: RCMP

X-Site Energy Services has denied having anything to do with the stickers

Bald eagle hit by train in northern B.C. has a chance of survival

The raptor has been taken to OWL in the Lower Mainland for recovery

Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto sign a historic agreement

Co-operation crucial to stem dropping Nechako Reservoir level

Hundreds of B.C. firefighters ‘climb the wall’ for BC Lung Association

The charity fundraiser saw participants climbing up 48 storeys

Stories of sexual assault at B.C. tree planting camps ‘shocking but not surprising:’ advocate

Contractors’ association is working with trainers to create respectful culture

Most Read