Month 13 and the common good: Syrian refugees in the Cowichan Valley

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Interpreters. Doctor’s appointments. English class. Daycare. Bus schedules. Recently, I’ve gotten an insight into the effort it takes to manage the life of just one family of Syrian refugees in the Cowichan Valley. Local churches – including Baptist, Anglican, United – and other independent groups have sponsored families for resettlement in the community, the first one arriving in late 2015. These people are making the area a little richer and more diverse with their presence. They allow us to reach out and share our Canadian lives with them, and the committed volunteers serve as an antidote to racism and violence elsewhere. 

Syrian refugee family

The Cowichan Valley’s first Syrian refugee family arrived in 2015

Then comes Month 13, the official cut-off of support after a year of private and government assistance for refugees. For many families that date is a looming deadline as they race to absorb language training and look for new jobs. Will you still be our friends after that, asked one family of their sponsor group (answered with reassurances). In December, the Senate committee on human rights issued a report on Syrian resettlement calling for more federal funding for language training and calling on provincial and municipal governments to offer support.

Meanwhile, local Muslims are offering moral support for each other in their new homes. Every week, a group of Cowichan Valley meet for prayers in Dr. Mohammad Fazil’s living room since, unlike centres in Nanaimo and Victoria, there is no mosque for the small community.

At the news of the shooting deaths of six Muslims at a Quebec mosque, Fazil said he was “sad and shocked” at the event. “These things are getting so common, I feel sad,” he said. Fazil, born in Pakistan, came to the valley in 2008 after medical training at universities in Connecticut and Tennessee in the 1990s, and has been very involved in the community ever since.

He says he never had any problems with racism, and he offered some comments full of hope and peace. “When humans try to follow their own whims and desires, it backfires. Wherever you go, you should work for the common good of that society. The common people don’t hate each other. God teaches us all to work together, to uphold true justice based on eternal laws,” he said.

 

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