Canadians helping Syrian families recall their own refugee past

HALIFAX -- Writing a cheque for a Syrian refugee family gave Gabrielle Horne a powerful sense of connection to her own grandparents.

See Full Article

The Halifax cardiologist is among the thousands of Canadian donors who reached into their bank accounts this fall to ensure privately sponsored refugees can make the voyage from crowded camps in the Middle East to resettle here in the New Year.

As she read media reports and watched footage of the Syrians attempting to cross into Europe, Horne says she found herself thinking of her maternal grandparents Aaron Belenkie and Rose Friberg.

"My grandparents came to Canada in the 1920s by what was then the Soviet Union and so I know firsthand the importance of providing a safe haven for people in desperate circumstances," she said.

The couple met in Montreal and married, launched a business and raised a family. But the anguish of separation from their families and their struggle to come here after persecution for their Jewish faith was seldom spoken of.

It was too painful, says Horne.

When she heard of a refugee support group in Hubbards, N.S., the physician contacted organizers to promise a $2,000 cheque.

"I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of welcoming refugees to Canada. So that cheque didn't hurt. I felt it was a personal opportunity."

The federal government requires the groups provide $30,000 for a small family, and many of the privately formed groups have been going beyond that in recognition that that figure may not be enough to provide for four or five people during a 12-month period.

The group in Hubbards began in a church hall in the small community on the province's south shore with the goal of sponsoring one family, and has been fundraising with community meals and art shows.

Susy MacGillivray of the Bay Refugee Project said in an email that donations of $1000, $2000 and $5000 have flowed in, helping lift the group beyond its original expectations.

"We have raised enough to sponsor two families and may well have enough to sponsor a third. We have turned our focus from fundraising to settlement," she said in an email.

"However, many other groups are not quite there yet with their fundraising."

The motives for those writing cheques are diverse, but often converge on a view that the Syrian struggles mirror those of past generations of refugees.

Jack and Nancy Jefferson, retirees who live in Vancouver, made the first private donation to the Bay Refugee Project. The couple provided $800 after reading a newspaper story about the group as they travelled through the province visiting their daughter.

"The war has changed the Syrians' lives and changed the lives of their children. ... They are people who have no place to go and they're desperate," said Jack. "I wanted to do something to bring them out of this and give them something brighter."

By writing a cheque, "you don't feel completely helpless," he explained.

The federal government has said 10,000 of the 25,000 Syrians it will bring to Canada by the end of February will be privately sponsored.

The federal website that updates progress says that as of Christmas Eve there were almost 5,000 refugees who have either arrived in Canada or whose application has been finalized but have not yet travelled to Canada.

In a news conference on Wednesday, federal immigration minister John McCallum said corporations including CN, RBC, and Scotiabank had provided $8.5 million, and many other companies were contributing.

"We have an anonymous company who's just pledged $2 million, but doesn't want its name to be known," he said.

The minister also noted that Khalid Usman, a leading member of the Muslim community in the Toronto area, held a fundraiser and had raised $1 million, while mosques in the area raised a further $2 million.

"At the other end of the spectrum, we have little children across the country committing to produce 25,000 toques for the refugees, and this started in Quebec, but has spread across the country," said McCallum.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • G7 leaders confer with Zelenskyy, prep new aid for Ukraine

    World News CTV News
    ELMAU, Germany - Leading economic powers conferred by video link with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday as they underscored their commitment to Ukraine for the long haul with plans to pursue a price cap on Russian oil, raise tariffs on Russian goods and impose other new sanctions. Source
  • Canada outperformed most G10 countries during first two years of pandemic response: study

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada handled key aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic better in the first two years of the health emergency than most G10 countries, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto compared COVID-19 infection, death, excess mortality and vaccination rates, social and public health restrictions and economic performance to determine how the G10 countries performed. Source
  • Widow angry with broken N.S. health care system after husband dies waiting for heart surgery

    Canada News CBC News
    Gay Clarke keeps wondering why things didn't happen differently. "I did all the what-ifs," she said. She and her husband, Mark Clarke, lived in Kentville, N.S., until his death at the age of 66 in February. Source
  • Libraries in Canada hit by wave of hate, threats, as right-wing groups protest all-age drag events

    Canada News CBC News
    Family-friendly drag events across Canada, many hosted by municipal libraries, have been targeted by a deluge of hateful comments and threats during Pride month, prompting multiple police investigations and renewed concerns about the safety of the LGBTQ community. Source
  • The pandemic upset how we assess students. Experts worry that's also hampered recovery efforts

    Canada News CBC News
    Some young learners are struggling to build early reading skills while others stumble over math concepts. Repeated pandemic pivots have left students out of practice with classroom learning, impacted their mental health and distanced them from peers. Source
  • Canada can now seize, sell off Russian assets. What's next?

    Canada News CBC News
    Selling Russian-owned assets to pay for Ukraine's reconstruction may sound like a logical approach to restitution, but as the Canadian government gains new powers to begin this process, questions remain about how it will work, and whether some issues are headed to court. Source
  • Parents, caregivers face new juggling act as employers evaluate work-from-home policies

    Canada News CBC News
    There's no daily commute for Amy McQuaid-England these days. That's because she's advising clients on social media matters from her home in Brighton, Ont., without having to cross her doorstep. The communications professional said this "life-changing" style of flexible work allows her to manage the needs of her young family while also managing her business. Source
  • Zelensky expected to ask for more support in address to G7 leaders

    World News CBC News
    The ongoing war in Ukraine will move from being an distant conflict to something more tangible for the leaders of the world's seven wealthiest democracies on Monday with an address by the embattled country's president. Volodymyr Zelensky said he's going to tell G7 leaders that despite their efforts to arms his country and to isolate the regime of Russia President Vladimir Putin, more needs to be done — and fast. Source
  • Quebec family forms a special bond with physician after death of their youngest son

    Canada News CBC News
    Twinkle lights spiral around the trunks of tall spruce trees outside the Dwyer-Odell home in Arundel, a village in the Laurentians, north of Montreal. A wind chime hanging from a branch tinkles. Dozens of wooden hearts, each holding a message for Brayden Odell and his family, decorate the boughs. Source
  • Connecting Indigenous inmates to their culture: Grand Chief performs at Manitoba prison

    Canada News CTV News
    Behind prison walls, National Indigenous People’s Day was celebrated this month, with inmates at a Manitoba federal prison granted access to music, drumming and sharing circles — positive steps forward to reconnect Indigenous inmates with their culture and rehabilitate a group that is incarcerated at a disproportionate rate. Source