January 11, 2016 12:35 am
Updated: January 11, 2016 12:37 am

Syrian Refugees celebrate Armenian Christmas in Vancouver

WATCH: Friday's attack didn't overshadow services at an Armenian church in Richmond today, where parishioners are sponsoring the largest number of Syrian refugees in B.C. For many of the refugees, it was their first peaceful orthodox Christmas they've celebrated in years. Tanya Beja reports.

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Canada’s Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, attended a special Christmas ceremony at St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church today to thank the community for its role in sponsoring Syrian refugees.

The Richmond-base parish is hosting nearly 31 families, many with ties to church members. The effort makes the orthodox Christian Church one of BC’s largest private sponsors.

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“It’s easy to expedite files, but it’s very hard to put the resources and community together to sponsor families like this. So this is my way of saying thank you,” Sajjan told reporters outside the church.

READ MORE: Syrian refugees were pepper sprayed in Vancouver two nights before

According to organizers, finding housing for the refugees has been the biggest challenge.

“We spent three days on Craigslist, trying to find rental apartments for $1,400 or $1,500, but it’s very difficult. People, when they know it’s a family, a mother, a father, maybe three kids and a mother in law, they just don’t want to rent, and unfortunately as private sponsors, we don’t get any help from the provincial government,” says Vic Andonian of the Armenian National Committee of Canada.

The church is not only looking for housing, but also donations of furniture and household goods. Donations can be made via syriahelp.ca or stgregorychurch.ca

Viken Majazian and Alin Azakelian and their two children are among the refugees being sponsored by St. Gregory Church. Majazian was a dental surgeon in Syria; Azakelian an engineer. But living in Aleppo, the family used to hear rockets above their apartment every night, and the violence eventually forced them to flee.

“I felt really hopeless,” Azakelian says. “My girl was saying she wanted to go to the park and sit on the swing. The kids just wanted to walk down the street. But I said you can’t go outside, so many dangers, maybe we will get hurt. There were so many difficult moments in our life, we felt hopeless.”

Now living in B.C., the family are about to move into their own rental apartment.

“I just want to thank everyone here, everyone, I am so happy,” Azakelian says.

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