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Parksville group raising money to bring Syrian refugee family to Canada

Fundraising through June 5 concert at Knox United Church
From left: Samar Al Hbayo, Fatima Al Faraj, 13, Oday Al Faraj, six, Judy Mayhew, Ali Refugee Sponsorship, Zeinab Al Faraj, eight, Terry Roberts, Ali Refugee Sponsorship president. (Kevin Forsyth photo)

Fundraising is underway, with hopes of reuniting a Syrian refugee family living in Parksville with relatives living in dire circumstances in Lebanon.

Samar Al Hbayo arrived in Parksville, along with her husband and three young children, as a refugee four-and-a-half years ago. Before that the family lived in Lebanon for 11 years after fleeing the violence from the Syrian civil war. The family and the local Ali Refugee Sponsorship Group are now in the process of bringing her brother-in-law, Ali Al Faraj, and his family to Canada.

The Al Faraj family of five is living in an apartment in Qaaqour, Lebanon, where conditions have worsened a great deal since Al Hbayo and her family left for Canada. The country is in an economic crisis that has made jobs and everyday necessities such as clean drinking water and even electricity hard to come by, Al Hbayo said. Since the economic downturn in Lebanon, attitudes towards Syrian refugees have become very negative because of the scarcity of resources and employment, according to Al Hbayo.

She said life in Canada has been much safer and easier, including finding a job.

“For my kids and for my family, much better,” Al Hbayo said.

READ MORE: From refugee camp to Qualicum Beach, Johdee becomes a Canadian citizen

She said the weather is not drastically different on Vancouver Island compared to where they used to live, in a higher elevation area of Lebanon, although the winters are longer.

Al Hbayo did not speak English when she arrived, but she learned the language at the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society in Nanaimo. Her husband was able to find work in construction after several months — it was a challenge because of the language barrier initially.

The group’s total fundraising goal to bring the refugees to Canada is about $45,000, according to Terry Roberts, president of Ali Refugee Sponsorship Group. The Al Faraj family have managed to save about $30,000 since coming to Canada and a recent picnic fundraiser at Rathtrevor Beach raised $2,700.

“We essentially need another $15,000,” Roberts said. As part of its fundraising campaign, the group has organized a concert by celebrated Canadian poet Shane Koyczan at Knox United Church on June 5.

Ali left Syria for Lebanon in July 2012, with his wife Suhair and their three children, Radwan, 19, Qusai, 17, and Mohamed, 14. They left their home in Kafr Zita after suffering through more than a year of airstrikes and shelling, according to his refugee application. He was injured in his left thigh from shrapnel and the family left the country after his treatment. Life in Lebanon was also dangerous and his Qusai still has scars after being beaten up by a group of men because he is Syrian.

This will be the third family the sponsorship group has brought to Parksville — Al Hbayo’s brother, Bader, and his family arrived in late 2019. They had been staying in Turkey for some time after fleeing the war in Syria.

Fundraising through events, such as Koyczan’s concert, are crucial to making the sponsorship process work, according to Judy Mayhew of the Ali Refugee Sponsorship Group. The process takes some time — Roberts said it will be approximately 22 months before the family is able to make the journey to Canada.

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