Shelby Thom and Simon Little
As Metro Vancouver’s resettlement agencies scramble to find permanent housing for 800 government-assisted Syrian refugees, some of the challenges of the settlement effort are becoming clearer.
Ebraheem Abo-Khoroj, who’s been living in Surrey for two and a half months is no exception.
He says a bureaucratic mix-up with immigration officials has left him without permanent residency documents… barring him from working or going to school.
Speaking through a translator, he says it’s left him in a life of limbo.
“At the moment he said ‘Well I have nothing to do, I am just sitting around and I am hoping the paperwork will be done very soon.'”
Living on $750 dollars in federal assistance, Ebraheem says he can barely cover the rent and food, never mind the $550 it costs to file the paperwork.
“He says ‘No I got nothing, five dollars only, five dollars.'”
But NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan, who helped connect the 23-year-old with an anonymous donor to cover the fees, says the public is stepping up.
“Canadians have just been so wonderful in that they’ve come forward and contacted us to say I want to help this young man out.”
Kwan hopes more refugees like Ebraheem don’t end up falling through the cracks.
Two classes of refugees?
Just down the hall in the same Surrey complex is a Syrian family also struggling to make ends meet.
They are among some Syrian refugees in Metro Vancouver who are stuck paying pack thousands of dollars in transportation loans.
Amer Alhendawi, his wife, and five children are struggling to make ends meet after settling into a small two bedroom apartment in Surrey seven months ago.
Speaking through a translator, Amer says he’s finding it hard to pay Ottawa back for his family’s transport and medical costs.
“$7400 he owes, he paid two times from his kids and his income, his income assistance.”
The Liberal government said late last year it would waive the interest-bearing loans – but only for refugees who arrive after November 4th.
That’s created a situation Kwan calls two classes of refugees.
And Alhendawi says it’s keeping him awake at night.
“It’s an unstable situation for him because he feels that’s the loan, I have to pay it off, he is very worried about that, I cannot sleep even, he says.”
Chris Friesen with the Immigrant Services Society of BC agrees the program needs to be terminated.
“It is something that we feel is unnecessary. Given the fact that the refugee program is a humanitarian program with humanitarian objectives, so it doesn’t make sense to us.”
Earlier this week Immigration Minister John McCallum said the government was taking a second look at the loan program.