March 20, 2017 9:19 pm
Updated: March 20, 2017 9:25 pm

‘We are not going to just drop these people’: sponsors promise more support for Syrian refugees

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Syrian refugees now living in the Shuswap are facing another big transition when their official sponsorship periods end. After a year in Canada, they are no longer guaranteed financial support.

In Salmon Arm, groups have sponsored 45 Syrian refugees. Many arrived in early 2016 and are now starting to time out of their official sponsorship period.

READ MORE: Half of adult Syrian refugees unemployed 1 year later: Liberals


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The biggest challenge as families hit the one-year mark are learning English, finding work and finding affordable rental accommodation.

The coalition representing the various sponsorship organizations knows their work won’t end after one year.

“We are not going to just drop these people. If they’ve been here for 12 months and are not quite ready, we’ll work with them in whatever way we need to,” said Brian Ayotte, chair of the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition.

Ayotte is optimistic about the future for the newcomers.

“[We] will help them get established, and I’m confident they will all become productive citizens,” he said.

Mustafa’s Story

Mustafa Zakreet is one of 45 Syrian refugees now living in Salmon Arm. His official sponsorship period ended in January.

These days, the 24-year-old works at a Salmon Arm eatery and goes to Okanagan College.

It’s a far cry from the refugee camp he left behind in Lebanon last January.

“There were Iraqi refugees who came to my city because of the war in 2003 so I remember the situation they lived in and how difficult that was. I never thought that I would be a refugee like them one day, but it happened,” said Zakreet.

He fled his home country of Syria after a bomb destroyed his family home, killing his mother and brother.

“When the bomb fell over the house, I didn’t know that my mother was killed. I left the house. I started running in the street. I hid in one of the tall buildings in town and then a friend of mine came to me and says, ‘Your mother is killed,’” he recalled.

READ MORE: 13,000 people killed in mass hangings in Syrian prisons since 2011: Amnesty International

Mustafa and one of his brothers went to Lebanon but became separated from the rest of their family. For months, they didn’t know what had become of their loved ones.

“I thought they died and they thought I died. After four months, I got a call from Dad and he told me that he is in Damascus,” Mustafa said.
After years in the refugee camp, he got the news he’d been accepted to Canada and would leave in a matter of days.

He found out on his way to Canada that he would be moving to a place he’d never heard of before called Salmon Arm. On the way to his new country, without his family, he wondered if anyone would be there to meet him when he arrived.

“I found many people waiting for me in the airport with very warm words and signs. [It] was wonderful,” he recalled.

Like other Syrian refugees in Salmon Arm, Mustafa’s expenses were covered for the first year. He and others received a mix of government funding and private sponsorship, but other Salmon Arm refugees are entirely funded by private sponsors.

READ MORE: Childcare, language training lacking, but ‘key’ to Syrian integration: Senate report

Mustafa’s official sponsorship period ended in January, but his sponsors had the funds to keep supporting him for a few more months. That funding ends this month but he feels ready to strike out on his own.

“The sponsor group made sure that I’m going to be ready myself. I have enough money in my account right now to start a new life in Canada,” he said.

Other members of his family arrived later and so, still have more time. However, it may fall on one brother who is working in construction to support the rest of the family.

As for Mustafa, he plans to move to Kelowna to study at Okanagan College in September. He hopes to one day earn a degree in civil engineering.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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