More than 50 per cent of Syria’s population is now displaced due to the ongoing civil war, making the Syrian refugee crisis the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
Refugee initiatives throughout South Okanagan are aiming to bring five more Syrian refugee families, including a recently announced family of five, soon to be six with another child due any minute, coming to Summerland and another two families expected to arrive in Penticton through a partnership with the Summerland refugee initiative.
The City of Penticton has offered to partially take care of the transportation costs of the families in Penticton and provide free passes to the community centre, after a meeting was held to collaborate with the nine refugee groups, committees and initiatives in the South Okanagan on Jan. 23.
There is no concrete date as of yet on when the families will be arriving.
The announcement of the new family coming to Summerland was made during a fundraising event for the Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group held at the Summerland Waterfront Resort on Jan. 22. Attending were Syrian refugee families already located in the South Okanagan.
Ayman Kanaan, a member of the refugee initiative and resident arabic translator, along with volunteers, helped prep the Syrian dishes served at the fundraiser, which was attended by members of Summerland council, Penticton city council and Penticton MP Richard Cannings.
To have all those dignitaries come out in support was “exciting,” Hussam said in English with a big smile.
“It’s a great feeling, they absolutely were amazed. They love the feeling seeing the excessive love from the community, the council, mayor, MPs, MLAs, that they care about the people of Syria as people. They care about the situation in Syria and want to help any way they can,” Kanaan said.
The families keep in touch with loved ones back home via Skype and other video chatting services.
“Unfortunately, that we cannot really control. It’s wherever they are designated. They have family in Turkey, family in Germany, family in Syria still that can’t get out,” Kanaan said.
Kanaan, who immigrated from Saudi Arabia to Canada in 1989, has been assisting various refugee initiatives since the Summerland United Church sponsored the Albetar family early last year.
He has passed on his advice from experiencing the same culture shock to the families.
“The biggest lesson is keep your culture, keep who you are, but you have to adjust to the new culture. One of the biggest things is, for example, employment. The woman’s role here versus back home. A lot of women back home, not a lot of them work, the dad is the breadwinner,” Kanaan said.
“Life is different, a lot of them have family homes that are passed on so you don’t really need to have double incomes coming in.”
“We hear a lot about ‘why Syria?’,” said Doug Holmes, Summerland councillor and co-chair of the Summerland refugee group, while speaking at the fundraiser.
Holmes displayed a graph noting the 12 million people displaced by the Syrian war, compared to five million displaced by the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the 2.3 million left homeless after the earthquake in Haiti and the 2.8 million in need of humanitarian aid after the earthquake in Nepal.
“The scale we’re talking about here, it’s unfathomable. So that’s why Syria is out there and why we’re all here today and why we are so focused on it,” Holmes said.