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

  • Watchdog report on RCMP's investigation of Colten Boushie shooting due next month

    Canada News CBC News
    The results of an independent probe into how the Saskatchewan RCMP handled its investigation of the Colten Boushie shooting is finally poised for release next month, after a three-year wait. Boushie, 22, was shot and killed after he and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation drove onto Stanley's farm near Biggar, Sask. Source
  • Armenian PM faces military's demand to resign, talks of coup

    World News CTV News
    YEREVAN, ARMENIA -- Armenia's prime minister spoke of an attempted military coup Thursday after the military's General Staff demanded that he step down after months of protests sparked by the nation's defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. Source
  • German charged with espionage for allegedly passing parliament floor plans to Russia

    World News CTV News
    BERLIN -- A German man has been charged with espionage for allegedly passing information on properties used by the German parliament to Russian military intelligence, prosecutors said Thursday. The suspect, identified only as Jens F. Source
  • China denies subjecting U.S. diplomats to COVID-19 anal tests

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING -- China on Thursday denied subjecting U.S. diplomats to COVID-19 anal tests following reports from Washington that some of its personnel were being made to undergo the procedure. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing that "China has never asked U.S. Source
  • So you got your COVID-19 shot. Does that mean life goes back to normal?

    Canada News CBC News
    After Toronto family physician Dr. Tali Bogler received her final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in January, she felt a newfound sense of relief — but also knew her daily life wasn't going to suddenly change. On an afternoon in late February, while still dressed in her bright blue hospital scrubs after a shift, she was cuddling one of her twin daughters while catching up with her parents on a video chat. Source
  • In the shadow of her killer's verdict, Cindy Gladue's family wants to reclaim her humanity

    Canada News CBC News
    Donna McLeod held her great-grandson Dayton by a firepit crackling flames in an Edmonton backyardlast week and spoke about a dream she longed to have about Cindy Gladue, now gone for 10 years. Gladue, McLeod's oldest daughter, was found dead in 2011 in an Edmonton hotel room that has since changed its name. Source
  • 'It's not their fault': Nunavut students who act violently let down by lack of counselling, educators say

    Canada News CBC News
    This is Part 2 of a three-part series on violence in Nunavut's schools. CBC InvestigatesNunavut schools had 1,000 violent incidents last year, CBC investigation reveals Source
  • Playstations scarce, automakers stalled amid semiconductor shortage brought on by pandemic

    Canada News CBC News
    Max Nekrasov, 15, is relentless in his repeated search for a sought-after treasure that's been elusive during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Playstation 5. The Toronto teen runs a Twitter account with more than 19,000 followers that flags whenever a retailer restocks the popular video game console. Source
  • What experts say Canada needs to do to become a leader in the electric vehicle industry

    Canada News CBC News
    This week's meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden was a signal of momentum for electric vehicles that those in Canada's industry have been waiting for. In the roadmap released following the meeting, both leaders promised to work together to build supply chains for electric vehicle (EV) battery development so Canada and the U.S. Source
  • Quebec under fire for failing to accommodate seniors unable to leave home for vaccinations

    Canada News CBC News
    Twenty five years ago, Judith Cowling was told she had two years to live when she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. Now 81, Cowling is in palliative care at home in Westmount, a suburb west of downtown Montreal, home after having exhausted treatment options that, for all those years, helped her battle what she calls a "clever disease. Source