Newspaper article The Canadian Press

"Like Emailing with Anne Frank": Syrians Head Online to Find Canadian Sponsors

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

"Like Emailing with Anne Frank": Syrians Head Online to Find Canadian Sponsors

Article excerpt

Syrians search for Canadian sponsors online

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OTTAWA - Muneer al Zahabi finally got tired of waiting.

For nearly three years, his family had been in Jordan, among over half a million Syrians there crammed into apartments and camps. It was safer than sleeping in the bathtub in their house in Syria for protection from missiles, but they wanted out.

The UN officially declaring them refugees ensured his two older children could go to school. But the piece of paper provided little other day-to-day benefit. Syrians can't legally work in Jordan, so even though Zahabi has picked up piecemeal graphic design work -- he worked in the industry for 15 years in Syria -- it wasn't stable and the pay low.

They wanted a home in another country. But his family is five of 4.2 million refugees. To date, only about 180,000 resettlement spaces are available worldwide. Canada has offered over 38,000 of them since 2013. But the people most often chosen for new homes here and elsewhere aren't families like his -- educated, healthy, with his fluency in English and their professional backgrounds.

"My wife said we needed to wait in line, wait for our turn, there were hundreds ahead of us," Zahabi, 40, said in an interview from Amman.

But the call from the UN never came. So, six months ago, Zahabi decided to take things into his own hands.

He'd heard good things about Canada. As a Muslim, he could practise his faith and in Toronto he felt he'd find a community that would be welcoming.

On the Immigration Department website, he found the list of more than 80 organizations who hold agreements with the government to facilitate the private sponsorship of refugees. And he started emailing them.

"Nobody believed me," he said. "They didn't understand how a refugee could be contacting them directly. There was this barrier between us."

Then the Liberals were elected and promised to resettle 25,000 Syrians in a matter of months. Private groups working with the formal sponsorship agreement holders started springing up across the country. …

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