Help pours in for Syrian refugees in Calgary, despite economic woes

CALGARY - Naheed Gilani's investments have been pummelled by the crude price collapse, but the Calgarian says he hasn't hesitated for a moment to contribute thousands of dollars to sponsor a Syrian refugee family.

See Full Article

"My reasoning was, 'we can't afford to wait for the next person who might be in a better economic condition than I am,"' said the 35-year-old, who is part of a group of five Calgarians sponsoring a widow and her two young children.

Calgary is expected to take in up to 1,300 refugees in the coming weeks, though final figures have not been pinned down. Of those, 502 are through private sponsorships - one of the highest numbers for Canadian cities, according to federal government figures. All this as mass layoffs in the oilpatch become a regular occurrence and year-end bonuses are slashed.

Gilani, born into a comfortable life in Canada to East African immigrant parents, said it's important to put Calgary's economic woes into perspective.

"I just think people get so used to their high level of Canadian standards that we're not as resilient in the face of a downturn as we should be. People don't know what resiliency really is," he said.

Stephen Scott, an engineer who was laid off in October, said he has no qualms about Calgary taking in refugees.

"I'm not going to be looking for the same jobs they are," he said. "If you had a family living in Syria, you'd want to get out of there. So we need to give these people some opportunity. When we were born in North America and the western countries, it's like we won the lottery."

Even though a light-rail transit station in Calgary was scrawled with anti-refugee graffiti earlier this month, that intolerance isn't representative of the vast majority of what Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he's witnessed in the city.

He estimates that 95 per cent of the feedback he gets on the refugee issue is from Calgarians clamouring to help.

"But there is a little undercurrent and people are saying 'Look - if you're being so helpful to these refugees, what about people who are hurting right now?' And that's a fair question," he said.

"But of course let's remember that folks that are hurting right now have access to a huge raft of resources, whether it's (employment insurance) or social programs or housing in our current community, whereas the folks who are coming are fleeing unspeakable violence and trauma and don't have anything."

In Calgary, social housing will not go to refugees, as waiting lists for those units are already long.

Rather, Nenshi said, it will be up to the private sector to find homes for the refugees. Local real estate firms have already offered discounts and free rent for refugee families and Nenshi said he's even hearing from citizens eager to offer up basements or spare rooms.

There are some common misunderstandings about the economic impact the refugees will have on the city of 1.2 million, Nenshi added.

"Last year, with the economic downturn well in play, we added 3,000 new Calgarians every month," he said. "To absorb another 1,000 people, half of whom are children, over the course of the next couple of months, even in a time of economic downturn - in a city this size, it shouldn't have any impact really whatsoever on individuals."

Nor should Calgary experience any hardship from 300 to 400 refugees entering the job market in "dribs and drabs" as they complete their language training and update professional accreditation, he added, and the city's social services won't be unduly strained.

"We normally bring in 1,000 refugees a year in any given year. So certainly we're looking at doubling that in a shorter period of time, but those resources are available, whether you're talking about English classes or trauma counsellors or mental health folks or the school boards being able to welcome these kids into their community."

Community organizer Saima Jamal said looking for a job isn't a top priority for refugees when they first arrive.

"The first six months, you just focus on language training," she said. "They're just right now getting their feet wet and entering a new country."

Jamal, who has been working to match Syrian families with sponsor groups, said the support she's seen has been "overwhelming."

"If one person is faltering, somebody else is always picking up," she said.

Many Calgarians unable to put thousands of dollars toward private sponsorships are still finding ways to help within their budget, said Jamal. That could include taking a family shopping for winter clothing or on a day trip to Banff.

D.D. Coutts, manager of communications for the Calgary Food Bank, says the arrival of refugees will add to the already increased demand caused by the downturn.

Preparations are under way, especially getting pantry hampers ready with the basics like flour, sugar, salt and pepper - "that initial kitchen set-up," as Coutts puts it.

"That amount of people will not impact us enormously. We always have new immigrants coming in, always have new Albertans coming to the province."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Bautista leads Jays past Yankees in likely final home game

    Canada News CBC News
    Jose Bautista had two hits, drove in one run and scored another to help lift the Blue Jays to a 9-5 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday in what was likely his final home game in a Toronto uniform. Source
  • 1 dead, 7 hurt in Tennessee church shooting

    World News Toronto Sun
    NASHVILLE — A masked gunman entered a church in Tennessee on Sunday and opened fire, killing at least one person and injuring seven others before apparently shooting himself, an official said. Don Aaron, spokesman for the Metro Nashville Police Department, said the gunman arrived at the parking lot in a blue vehicle as services were ending at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in the neighbourhood of Antioch. Source
  • Mass exodus of Rohingya slowing down but many still trying to flee Myanmar

    World News CBC News
    The massive exodus of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar to escape brutal persecution appears to have slowed down, but several recent refugees say tens of thousands more are huddled near beaches or in forests waiting to escape. Source
  • Airstrikes hit Syria's Aleppo despite ceasefire

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- Airstrikes have targeted rural Aleppo in northern Syria Sunday for the first time in months since a cease-fire took hold in the province, killing one, activists and a war monitoring group said. Also Sunday, the Central Military Media, affiliated with the Syrian government, reported that Iranian drones successfully struck vehicles of the Islamic State group along the Syria-Iraq border in the south. Source
  • Toronto trust-funder Blake Leibel accused of torture killing

    World News Toronto Sun
    — “People come to Los Angeles to be someone else. And when you have that little self-esteem, terrible things are bound to happen.”— Black Dahlia author James Ellroy ••• Toronto trust-funder Blake Leibel’s bleak existence consists of hours of nothingness in the Los Angeles County Jail. Source
  • UN council to discuss report calling on Canada to address anti-black racism

    Canada News CTV News
    NEW YORK, United Nations -- The UN Human Rights Council is set to discuss a report on issues affecting African-Canadians that makes recommendations to the federal government, including that it apologize for slavery and consider providing reparations for historical injustices. Source
  • Hurricane Maria set Puerto Rico back decades: official

    World News CTV News
    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress said Sunday that Hurricane Maria's destruction has set the island back decades, even as authorities worked to assess the extent of the damage. Source
  • Baghdad orders Kurdistan region to hand over borders, ports

    World News CTV News
    BAGHDAD -- Iraq's central government in Baghdad ordered the country's Kurdish region to hand over all border crossings and airports to federal government control late Sunday night, hours before the region is set to carry out a controversial referendum on support for independence. Source
  • Engineers inspecting Puerto Rico's cracked dam that could 'collapse at any minute'

    World News CBC News
    Puerto Rico's government says engineers will inspect the Guajataca Dam on Sunday to determine the extent of damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria last week. The dam in the northwest corner of the island was cracked, but had not burst by late Saturday. Source
  • Merkel wins 4th term but nationalists surge in German vote

    World News Toronto Sun
    BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely expected to win a fourth term in office as Germans went to the polls on Sunday in an election that is also likely to see the farthest right-wing party in 60 years, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, win seats in parliament. Source