Syrian refugees find their new home in B.C. as crisis worsens

Relatives of the Kurdi family prepare to welcome them at the Vancouver International Airport. December 28, 2015.
Relatives of the Kurdi family prepare to welcome them at the Vancouver International Airport. December 28, 2015. Tanya Beja, Global News

As the year draws to a close, Global BC is looking back at some of the top stories that helped shape our province in 2015. We are talking to the people behind these stories and looking at the impact these stories had on British Columbians. Today, we are looking back at the stories of British Columbians trying to bring their Syrian families to Canada. 

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues to dominate headlines around the world, families of Syrian refugees, both privately sponsored and government assisted, have been steadily arriving at the Vancouver International Airport to start their new life in Canada.

This summer, the plight of the Syrian refugees was highlighted by the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea with his family. A photograph of his lifeless body, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and blue shorts, sparked international indignation and raised awareness about the refugee crisis.

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Alan’s aunt, Tima Kurdi, who lives in Coquitlam, has been trying for years to bring Alan’s family to Canada, but to no avail.

Kurdi’s original application to bring Mohammed, Alan’s uncle, his wife and five children to Canada was rejected because it didn’t have the necessary paperwork.

She has said the rejection prompted Alan’s father, Abdullah, to lose hope that he would be allowed into Canada and to instead attempt to cross the treacherous waters from Turkey to Greece, losing his two sons and wife in the journey.

On Monday, Mohammed and his family finally arrived in Canada. 

WATCH: Kurdi family’s emotional reunion at YVR

The family of Hisham Wattar, a Vancouver businessman who owns Best Falafel on Commercial Drive, arrived last week.

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Wattar has been trying to get his sister, two nieces and their two children out of Egypt, where the family fled from the Syrian conflict, and into Canada on a private sponsorship visa for almost four years.

In September, Wattar told Global News he received a letter from Immigration Canada, saying that their refugee application had been approved, but, at the time, authorities said it could take up to 42 months to bring them to Canada.

The family was so desperate to escape that one of Wattar’s nieces even considered getting on a smuggler boat to get out of Cairo this summer.

But just months later, Watter says there has finally been progress on their refugee application.

“Once the government changed hands, things started moving much faster,” Wattar told Global News.

The family will now settle in North Vancouver.

WATCH: Hisham Wattar is reunited with the family he hasn’t seen in years.

But while Kurdi’s and Wattar’s Syrian relatives are now in Canada on a private sponsorship visa, the federal government also committed to bringing in 25,000 refugees by the end of February.

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Chris Friesen with Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS of BC) says to date, eight Syrian families comprising 45 individuals have arrived in our province, with more arrivals on the way.

In November, Friesen told Global News they were flooded with offers of temporary and permanent housing for the refugees in the wake of Paris attacks.

He says the “housing leads” are still coming in, but not in the same numbers. A large number of leads is coming from within Vancouver proper, followed by Surrey and North Vancouver, giving an early indication of a potential settlement pattern.

Friesen says they are still looking for any potential housing offers.

“Our goal is to build up an inventory of permanent housing options,” he says.

They are also welcoming financial donations for a new refugee facility and their refugee sponsorship account.

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