Syrian refugees waiting in hotel dream of having own home soon

TORONTO -- Just days after arriving at a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey, Dilaver Omar and his family were taken in by locals who helped them adjust to their new life away from home.

See Full Article

A year and a half later, as Omar, his wife Dilsah Sahin and two of their children prepared to come to Canada through the government sponsorship program, they were told a family would be waiting in their new country to show them the lay of the land, he said through an interpreter.

Instead, the couple and their children -- 11-year-old son Beyez and 19-year-old daughter Hozana -- have spent the last few weeks in a north Toronto hotel that has become a de facto settlement for hundreds of government-sponsored Syrian refugees who have yet to find more permanent homes.

Eager to start their new lives and see their children back in school after a two-year hiatus, the parents said they long to move out of the crowded hotel.

"All I do is dream about having a home," said Omar, 45, noting the constant bustle of the building has grown to be "too much."

On a recent afternoon, dozens of people milled about the lobby, intercepting busy-looking settlement workers while young boys kicked a soccer ball in a corner. Children ran down the halls pushing toy shopping carts or strollers, while three young girls dressed in matching pink coats and boots played with the guest phone.

When they first arrived at the Toronto Airport Plaza Hotel -- the family shares adjoining rooms, each just large enough for two queen-size beds and a few suitcases -- other refugees warned of long processing delays, Sahin, 44, said in Arabic.

Settlement staff are doing what they can, she said, but it would be so much easier with a local family to show them the way.

Nour Daoud of COSTI Immigration Services, who is handling the family's file, said the intake and orientation process can take some time.

Families might miss an appointment for a health card while out looking for a home, she said. Housing is by far the biggest hurdle, she said, since many landlords require refugees to have someone co-sign their lease. And without an address, parents can't get their children in school.

But to her knowledge, no one has stayed in the hotel longer than a month, Daoud said.

More than 15,300 Syrians have arrived in Canada since the Liberals came to power, of which 8,859 are government-assisted, 5,426 privately sponsored and 1,081 a blend of the two programs.

The influx has forced agencies in three cities to request a break in the action so they can hire extra staff and find permanent homes for those who have already arrived before any more are cleared to come to Canada.

The federal government has said the flow will not be slowing down, but refugees already in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa have been staying in hotels for longer than expected.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne suggested private sponsors could temporarily house government-sponsored refugees currently living in hotels. But Ottawa found too many flaws in the proposal, saying the federal government has a duty of care over government-sponsored refugees, and that refugees shouldn't have to move to one home, only to move again soon after.

Humaira Khan, who runs Partners in Humanity, said sponsorship groups like hers don't want to replace government efforts to help refugees, just supplement them.

The Toronto-area realtor has been helping families at the Plaza hotel find rental homes while waiting for the refugees her group is sponsoring to arrive.

"These people need us now," she said. "They're desperate."

Just this week, Khan helped a family of nine sign a one-year lease on a townhouse in Mississauga, west of Toronto. Locating a home large enough for the couple and their seven kids -- aged 4 to 14 -- that was also within their limited budget was difficult, and took several visits over the last few weeks, she said.

She even managed to find a race car bed for one of the boys, who had raved about the novelty item, she said. Seeing his face light up at the sight of his new bed was "a fairy tale," Khan said.

Two more families, one with five children and one with eight, are also house-hunting with Khan's help, she said.

Once they have settled in their new places, Khan said she hopes to arrange at-home English classes for the mothers, who may not be able to attend otherwise.

A sponsorship group formed of co-workers at the Lough Barnes Consulting Group has been waiting for months to be assigned a family, and has already figured out who will pick them up at the airport, stock the fridge and handle everything else that will come along with the mammoth task of settlement.

In the meantime, however, they are flexible with helping whoever is in need, said Steve Lough, the company's managing director.

He said they trust those in charge to know whether it's best to stick to the different refugee streams or to start some cross-pollination.

"They're all in need. If they can come faster government sponsored, if we can get them settled faster with private, what difference does it make?" he said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • U.K. goverment tries to advance virus response with leader in ICU

    World News CTV News
    LONDON -- Britain's government sought Wednesday to keep a grip on the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic as Prime Minister Boris Johnson started a third day in the intensive care unit of a London hospital being treated for COVID-19. Source
  • Mayor orders crackdown on social gatherings, then police find his wife at a bar

    World News CTV News
    A mayor in Illinois pleaded with residents last week to follow the state's stay at home order. After officers reported that people were continuing to defy the rules, the mayor said he had directed the city's police department to use its discretion in issuing citations and arrests. Source
  • Legions begin fundraising to save branches as financial challenges mount

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A number of Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country have launched online fundraising efforts to keep their doors open after suffering financial setbacks because of COVID-19. The head of the national veterans' and community service group said this week that despite ongoing work to help veterans and seniors in their communities during the pandemic, many branches are now turning to fundraising to pay the bills and ensure they can re-open when the crisis ends. Source
  • COVID-19 creates new hardships for some cargo crews stuck aboard ships

    Canada News CBC News
    Cargo ship crews ferrying goods around the world are facing increased strain as ship operators consider keeping them at sea longer during the COVID-19 outbreak. It comes at a time when restrictions and concerns around the virus keep crews from leaving their vessels while in port, according to a union that represents seafarers. Source
  • Ontario conducting fewer COVID-19 tests daily as cases keep climbing

    Canada News CBC News
    The number of COVID-19 tests completed in Ontario each day has dwindled steadily over the past week, raising concerns that the province is missing cases of the illness and failing to capture the true spread of the novel coronavirus. Source
  • COVID-19 sparks rise in online child predators, says UNICEF chief

    World News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an increase in online child sexual predators that organizations, governments and parents need to take more seriously, says the head of the United Nations children's agency. "We've got a couple of worrying signs, which is that the online predators are really -- they're multiplying," Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director, said in a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press this week. Source
  • Liberals asked to help cover overruns on projects delayed by COVID-19

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Cities and construction groups are asking the Trudeau Liberals to relax the rules for expected cost overruns from infrastructure projects facing delays from the COVID-19 pandemic -- or add more cash to help them deal with it. Source
  • Doctors investigate rare COVID-19 symptoms in effort to move quickly from anecdotes to science

    Canada News CBC News
    Dry cough, fever and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of COVID-19, but specialists are starting to learn more about less common potential symptoms such as loss of one's sense of smell, disorientation and even seizures. Source
  • Pandemic equipment snarls will rewrite Canada's definition of national security needs, say experts

    Canada News CBC News
    The mad scramble to secure protective medical equipment and ventilators in the midst of a global pandemic has given some of the people who work in the usually tedious world of government procurement an unwelcome excuse to say, "I told you so. Source
  • How a simple plastic box could protect health-care workers across Canada from COVID-19

    Canada News CBC News
    For clinicians, inserting a tube into the airway of a COVID-19 patient is a high-risk procedure. It usually means front-line workers are staring right into someone's open mouth, and directly in the line of fire, should a sudden cough send virus-filled droplets flying. Source