North Vancouver Church seeks help for Syrian family

In a refugee camp in Cairo, Egypt, a Syrian family is awaiting the day they can start a new life in North Vancouver.

A grandmother, her two adult daughters and her two school-aged granddaughters are among the millions of Syrians who have been uprooted by civil war. But they remain hopeful. The matriarch of the family has a younger brother who lives on the North Shore and he has teamed up with Canyon Heights Church to bring his relatives here.

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Hisham Wattar immigrated to Canada in 1987 and has owned a falafel shop on Commercial Drive in Vancouver since 2000. He lives just down the road from Canyon Heights Church and is a regular customer at Capilano Grind, the church's in-house coffee shop.

It's here that he got to talking with lead pastor Steve Moore about his family's dire situation and asked if the church could help.

"I remember the day he asked me. I'm confused, I'm thinking I don't know if we can do this, I have no idea, but we'll pursue it and see if the doors open," Moore says.

It turned out the church did have the capacity to help Wattar sponsor his family and, in late August, Moore and Wattar received approval from the Canadian government to proceed with the process of bringing the five refugees to Canada. They established a $48,000 line of credit to fulfil the financial requirement for sponsoring the family and are now looking to the wider community for reimbursement.

"The fundraising is going to basically replace that and put the effort in the hands of the community rather than in the hands of two individuals," Moore says.

According to Amnesty International, more than 10 million Syrians, or 45 per cent of the country's population, have been displaced. Of those, 6.5 million are displaced within Syria and four million have sought refuge in other countries.

Wattar's sister has shared her story on the Canyon Heights Church website. Fatima (the names of the family members have been changed for their protection), describes how her youngest son, Ali, was put on a wanted list by Syrian authorities. "Shortly after, the Syrian regime raided our house by throwing our belongings everywhere causing them to break. These men were armed with guns," she writes.

"My family and I were terrified and thought they would kill us. .. . They demanded Ali give himself up. We all knew that if that were to happen Ali would be placed under a tremendous amount of torture and potential death."

Authorities continued to raid the family home in the middle of the night, Fatima writes. Fearing for their safety, the family fled the capital city of Damascus on Sept. 22, 2012, via Beirut, Lebanon, and flew to Cairo.

"There is no prospect of return to Syria," Fatima writes, adding, "It is extremely difficult to integrate in Egyptian society when we are not welcomed in the first place. After all these circumstances, we truly have run out of solutions."

Although the sponsorship application has been approved, it could be many months before the family arrives in Canada.

"We're being told it might take up to a year for them to clear all that paperwork and interviews and what-not and hopefully by next September we're renting a suite in a home (for the family)," Moore says.

In July 2013, Canada committed to permanently resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. According to figures from the office of Canada's Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, as of Nov. 13, a total of 457 resettled Syrian refugees had landed in Canada, including 163 privately sponsored refugees and 294 government-assisted refugees, since the start of the Syrian conflict. To help Canyon Heights Church raise the necessary funds to sponsor the five refugees, visit canyonheightschurch.ca/syria

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