New Brunswick welcoming Syrian refugees

New Brunswick is becoming one of the leading places to welcome refugees in Canada. More than ten million Syrians are either refugees or internally displaced.

Refugees Welcome organized a rally to welcome newcomers. Photo: Sara Perez

Between January and February, more than three hundred newcomers settled in the province. The federal government said it would welcome twenty five thousand last November. New Brunswick offered to welcome fifteen hundred.

In December Refugees Welcome organized a rally for the refugees and asked the government to do even more to help.

“We refuse to hate. We will not tolerate any form of hatred. We will not tolerate any form of discrimination,” said St. Thomas University professor Gul Caliskan while speaking at the rally. “We will stand up for those new members of the community just like anyone who could not stand up for themselves.”

Some refugees offered their testimonies of living in refugee camps.

“We were moved to rooms from 6 to 8 families from all over the world and we lived in a very constraint space,” said St. Thomas University teacher and former refugee Monica Schutzel. “What has stuck with me to this day is the constant fear and suspicion among the refugees. We were all from different parts of the world. We didn’t know each other or what would happen to us.”

Refugees arriving in New Brunswick now aren’t sure what will happen to them either. Some are sponsored by the government, but in this province most are privately sponsored by churches and families.

In February the University of New Brunswick hosted a town hall on resettlement. Major Drew Willis of the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment worked overseas and screened refugees on their way to Canada. He said helping the children was the most rewarding experience.

“When you see the look in those children’s faces when they know they’ll be in a place safe or when you look the parents’ faces when they know they’re going to be safe it’s a very rewarding feeling,” said Willis.

President of the Multi-Cultural Association in Fredericton Lisa Bamford-De Gante said the Multi-Cultural Association has been resettling newcomers for many years, but what is challenging this time is the volume and the speed.

Fredericton has nearly five times as many refugees as last year. In March Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside asked for a break because the work was overwhelming for volunteers. But the provincial cabinet minister said the province was nearing its goal and they wouldn’t stop the intake of newcomers.

One of the biggest challenges to settle families in New Brunswick is looking for a permanent home, said Bamford-De Gante. A lot of families may have ten or nine members which makes finding a permanent home more difficult because the province has “few housing stocks for families of ten.” Many of them have stayed in hotels for several weeks.

Former Syrian activist and refugee Lahyla Rahmeh fled her home country because she was threatened to get detained with her daughter. “When I left Syria and Damascus I did not think I would not get back there,” said Rahmeh.

Rahmeh fled Syria because she was threatened to get detained.
Rahmeh fled Syria because she was threatened to get detained. Photo: Sara Perez

And she is not the only newcomer who didn’t want to leave her home country. UNB engineering student Haider Razak moved to Fredericton when he was twenty one.

What Razak most likes about the country is being able to have opportunities to work. “Back home, the problem that we have is no matter how hard you work, sometimes you cannot get the result because the system is corrupted and it’s not good,” said Razak.

But Razak has also experienced difficulties living in New Brunswick. He said he think he will have to move to a bigger city in order to get better job opportunities.

“I really like Fredericton. If there’s opportunity and place to work then I would stay here for the rest of my life.”

Razak is afraid he'll have to move to a bigger city. Photo: Sara Perez
Razak is afraid he’ll have to move to a bigger city. Photo: Sara Perez