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Budget hotel transformed into first Canadian home for Syrian refugees in Calgary
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CNN: Canadian city welcomes Syrian immigrants
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Local charity to receive new funding
Large families of Syrian refugees struggle to find affordable housing in Calgary
Large families of Syrian refugees struggle to find affordable housing in Calgary
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Calgary Now - Syrian Refugees in Calgary
Syrian, Iraqi refugees spend first Christmas in Alberta
Syrian, Iraqi refugees spend first Christmas in Alberta
Live With Nenshi 2015 - Immigration/Refugees
Live With Nenshi 2015 - Immigration/Refugees
Syrian refugees arrive in Calgary
Syrian refugees arrive in Calgary
Twenty more refugees arrive in Calgary Friday
Twenty more refugees arrive in Calgary Friday
Immigration minister calls on Canadians to help settle Syrian refugees
Immigration minister calls on Canadians to help settle Syrian refugees
CCIS is tracking and coordinating all volunteer efforts
CCIS is tracking and coordinating all volunteer efforts

Syrian refugees in Calgary
As Syrian refugees continue to arrive in Canada, The City prepares to welcome those who settle in Calgary.
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Syrian Situation
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CCIS in the News | Syrian Refugees
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How to accommodate Syrian refugees
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Calgarians lay groundwork for arrival of Syrian refugees
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Syrian refugees settle in Calgary
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Latest News


Syrian Refugees and News updates

Trump's immigration plans may be Canada’s gain

Trump's immigration plans may be Canada’s gain


US Leadership on refugee relief will be missed: Calgary Catholic Immigration Society


Many Syrian refugees who landed in Calgary have started their own businesses already. Pictured clockwise from top left are Mery Makhoul and Antoine Rayan owners of Aleppo's Kitchen, Omar Lababidi who started his own clothing line Fancy Label, Rita Khanchat, owner of Syrian Cuisine Made With Love and Wafaa of Wafaa's Alterations.


By: Metro Published on Fri Jan 27 2017

The Trump administration’s plans to limit immigration and refugees could be a boon for Canada but also dangerous for those fleeing war-torn countries, according to Calgary experts.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order slashing the number of refugees the country will accept from 110,000 annually to 50,000, and temporarily limiting immigration from some predominantly Muslim countries.

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said it’s too soon to say what effect his executive order could have in the long run, but he is expecting a different environment over the next four years.

“The US actually does a big bulk of the international work on refugees – it would be very sad to see the US really doesn’t want to do what they have been doing for many years,” he said.

Birjandian noted refugees and immigrants are in two very different categories. While the first are fleeing dangerous situations in a hurry, countries compete to attract the smartest and most talented immigrants.

“The United States is usually the first destination of choice for immigrants,” said Birjandian. “It’s a huge economic benefit.’

He said it’s possible Canada could benefit by attracting more highly skilled workers if the US somehow reduced the number of immigrants it was accepting.

Saima Jamal, co founder of the Syrian Refugees Support Group in Calgary, noted that refugees also end up contributing greatly once they have some help getting on their feet.  

“Whoever comes as refugees – the first two or three years we have to look after them, but after that they are a huge help,” she said. “Once you have given them the tools, holy moly, are they ready to make a home, make a success.”

She has grave concerns about the limits the US is putting on immigration from certain countries. Currently the limits are only for 30 days until the US can re-examine its vetting process.

 “We need to be cognizant that this might be happen to people that have already asked for refugee status – there could be a huge influx of refugees (at our border),” she said.




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Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Shelter from the cold

Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Shelter from the cold









It’s a word that resonates in our hearts and minds, almost as powerfully as the word love. For Abdullatif Abdul Karim, it’s an English word he learned only recently. These days, he is using it to describe a two-storey building in the northeast neighbourhood of Bridgeland, tucked into a cul-de-sac a stone’s throw from a busy stretch of Memorial Drive.

“Here, we have found safety, peace, comfort, acceptance,” says Karim as he sits with his wife and four young children in the crafts room of the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre. “It is the safest we have felt in a long time.”

Karim’s comments are no exaggeration. Indeed, the soft-spoken 31-year-old speaks with extreme understatement.

His escape from Aleppo, Syria, is one that has taken years, many tears and the kind of harrowing experiences only those who have fled war can truly understand. When and his wife, Ebitsam Alawa — their four children, ages three to seven, in tow — arrived at Calgary International Airport last month, they knew their death-defying journey was finally behind them.

“We were met with nice faces and kind hearts,” says Karim with the help of interpreter Rima Yacoub, a resettlement counsellor at the centre. His wife concurs: “It was an amazing feeling, from the moment we arrived, being welcomed here with love.”


Providing a temporary home for newcomers is one that the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has provided for 35 years in the city. Over those decades, says Fariborz Birjandian, it has evolved to service so much more than the essential need for shelter.

“This centre has been here for 22 years, designed to help those who arrive relieve their stress, become familiar with life in Canada in a safe environment, get ready to begin their lives here,” says Birjandian, its CEO. “More than 15,000 Calgarians started their new lives right here in this building.”

Sitting in the centre’s cafeteria during the lunch hour, a steady stream of people of all ages line up for a hot meal, while the chatter of little ones fills the air. “More than 90 per cent of them have come from a very harsh situation,” says Birjandian, noting that 1,400 people arrived from Syria in the last year. “There are so many practical things we need to do, but we also work on helping them rebuild the self-esteem they lost as a refugee.”


Like Birjandian, Arlene Adamson devotes her days to helping those needing, first and foremost, shelter. But her clients also require help with a wide range of daily challenges that are unique to their stage in life.

“For those who have never had to worry about a roof over their heads, the concept of shelter is something we take for granted,” says Adamson, CEO of Silvera for Seniors, a charitable organization that has been helping seniors and their families in Calgary for over half a century. “For those not as fortunate, it can be a driving-in-your-face worry.”

Navigating the affordable housing system is even more challenging when faced with the impairments of advanced age, she notes. Many of her clients — the average age is 85, with a higher number in recent years of those 90 and older — experience everything from loss of vision and hearing to reduced mobility and memory loss. Combine those with a lack of computer literacy and social isolation, says Adamson, and you have a highly vulnerable community that can so easily fall through the cracks.


“This is an age group that can’t even function at a homeless shelter,” says Adamson, whose organization offers several programs and services along with helping low-income seniors find housing. “We’re dealing with a population vulnerable like no other.”

The people Heather Morley helps to find both temporary and permanent housing are much younger. Some, in fact, have barely spoken their first words. “So often, they are the invisible homeless,” says Morley, vice-president of programs and services at YWCA Calgary. “People are more willing to open their homes temporarily to a woman with young children, so you don’t see them show up in the traditional places that help those facing homelessness.”

The YWCA helped to house more than 1,200 women and their children last year, from emergency shelters to transitional housing. The supports, however, go far beyond a providing a roof and four walls.

“We are starting to learn much more about the unique ways in which homelessness affects women and children,” says Morley, whose organization is the longest serving in the city for women, helping them to break the cycle of family violence, poverty and homelessness. “It is about a bed and a safe roof over their heads, but it’s also about counselling and support. One won’t work without the other.”


Watching the city of his birth collapse in recent days, not knowing the fate of relatives and friends, has been nothing short of torturous for Abdullatif Abdul Karim and his 29-year-old wife. “It is breaking our hearts, making us ache,” he says as he wipes tears from his eyes.

No one needs to tell him he is one of the lucky ones. In the coming days, he and his family will settle into their first home in many years, in a city that despite a recent winter freeze, has already shown its warmth. “As a parent, all you want is a better future for your kids,” says Karim as his four little ones proudly hold up snowmen they made out of paper plates and crafts.

“We will be sad to leave this place, it has been home to us,” he says. “But we’re ready to start our new lives, filled with hope.”

The Calgary Herald Christmas Fund has raised $726,132.88 from 2151 donors so far.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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'Wild adventure' starts anew as agencies brace for hundreds more Syrian refugees

'Wild adventure' starts anew as agencies brace for hundreds more Syrian refugees


'Wild adventure' starts anew as agencies brace for hundreds more Syrian refugees

Calgary agencies help 2,400 who arrived earlier this year, prepare for hundreds more

By Bryan Labby, CBC News Posted: Dec 12, 2016 5:00 AM MT Last Updated: Dec 12, 2016 9:56 AM MT

It has been a year since Canada started getting an unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees, with more than 2,000 settling in Calgary alone. This is Part 1 in a five-part series looking at how those refugees are doing a year in and the effects of that influx on their support agencies.


Settlement agencies in Alberta are bracing for up to 700 more Syrian refugees — while still struggling to cope with a surge of 4,200 who arrived in the first few months of the year.  

Calgary alone has welcomed 2,400 Syrian refugees with more to come.

"We don't want 2,000 people in three months — nobody wants that. This is chaos, it's not good," says Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, one of the lead settlement agencies in Calgary.


Canada immigration officials say up to 500 government-assisted refugees could arrive in Alberta by the end of the month, and another 200 privately-sponsored refugees early next year.

Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, says the number of privately-sponsored refugees is approximate, and could change depending on a number of factors, including when people are available to travel.

"Those who aren't able to travel before the end of year will arrive in 2017," Caron wrote in an email to CBC News.


"It's a little bit of a struggle to keep our head above water," says Cesar Suva, a program manager for the Calgary Immigrant Education Society. 

Suva put together a program called Empowering Syrian Refugees, which received $56,000 from the city of Calgary's Emergency Resiliency Fund.

Suva says the goal is to teach refugees the basics, including how to find a doctor or open a bank account.

"It could determine in fact whether this family is able to get a footing in the new community, or becoming economically or socially isolated," says Suva.

'Wild adventure' 

The surge of Syrian refugees is the largest resettlement of refugees in Canada in a generation, not seen since the arrival of the 60,000 so-called 'Boat People' who came from Vietnam in 1979-80.

"[The year] 2016 has absolutely been a wild adventure for our clinic," says Cheryl San Juan, the primary care manager of the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic in northeast Calgary. 


"It was really all hands on deck," says San Juan.

The clinic offers newcomers a variety of services from physicians and specialists — including pediatricians and obstetricians, gynecologists, nurses, social workers, dieticians and mental health therapists.  

One of the emerging issues health care providers are dealing with is the cultural barrier among Muslim women, who are reluctant to speak to practitioners, especially male health care providers, on their own.  

The clinic is looking at bringing in more female mental health therapists.

"The women refugees that we see coming in are experiencing that culture shift," says San Juan. 

She says clinic staff are trying to educate and empower them "to find their voice as a woman."

'Awful state' 

The clinic is also looking at forming a refugee support group for men who are dealing with trauma, related to torture and other atrocities they endured during the conflict.

"I can name you 20 illnesses that are completely [untreated] of patients I've seen that we're trying to deal with now," says Dr. Gabriel Fabreau who treats patients at the Refugee Health Clinic.


Dr. Fabreau says on the mental health side, some patients suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and major depression.

"Up to 30 per cent of all refugees, five years after arrival, are still suffering from mental illness," says Fabreau, who referenced medical studies done on the settlement of refugees.

​Birjandian, a former refugee himself, says the settlement process will take time and it's not an easy transition.

He is proud of Calgarians' response to help the refugees.  He says more private sponsors stepped forward on a per capita basis than any other city in Canada.

"We don't make decisions about who comes to Calgary, this is a government decision, however when they come here we have to do the best job possible," he said.



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One year after arrival, Syrian refugees continue to face employment barriers

One year after arrival, Syrian refugees continue to face employment barriers



In Calgary, home to the country’s highest unemployment rate, service providers are seeking new ways to link newcomers with work. One is offering more training in entrepreneurship, says Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society

Adnan Almekdad is a former veterinarian from southern Syria, where he ran a large-animal clinic and provided vet services to a poultry farm. He spent another decade as a manager and strategist at several pharmaceutical startups. He has also published two books. His background, he says wryly, is in “poetry and poultry.”

Now in Canada after fleeing the war, he has stable housing, his three daughters are flourishing in school and his wife is volunteering and attending language classes. He has a supportive sponsorship group, some of whom have become close friends, and his English is remarkably good, after just 10 months in the country.

What he doesn’t have, despite sending out hundreds of résumés, is a job.

Related: Syrian exodus to Canada: One year later, a look at who the refugees are and where they went

Related: Finding a home, away from home: Refugees, sponsors and what it means to be Canadian

Read more: Syrian refugee family thankful for freedom in Canada

“I am skilled – I have experiences in working, management, manufacturing processes,” he says in an interview in Toronto, frustration evident in his voice. “It’s hard.”

He has some theories why he hasn’t found work: “the gap in my résumé, between 2012 and now, the other gap between the Syrian experience and the Canadian experience, and another gap between the Syrian certificates and Canadian certificates.”

Canada has welcomed more than 35,000 Syrian newcomers in the past year, at a time when many other countries are closing their doors to refugees. As the one-year mark of the first arrivals looms, their success in integrating into the labour market has been mixed. For many, it will take longer than one year to adjust. But month 13 – when income support ends – is the crucial time when many must either find work or apply for social assistance. While Canada has won praise for its warm welcome of newcomers, experts see room for improvement in smoothing their transition into the work force.

Recognition of foreign credentials is a key challenge, says Lori Wilkinson, director of Immigration Research West and professor of sociology at the University of Manitoba. Another is simply having proof of past experience.

“In some instances, people who are fleeing their country, or even their house, they have minutes to get out of their house – so they don’t think to take their university diploma or certificate. It’s the same thing with job references – they’re not there, or they’ve been killed, or you can’t find them, or you can’t give a reference in English or French – those are issues that are unique to refugees, more so than immigrants, that might pose barriers to entering into employment.”

Research shows refugees eventually catch up with their Canadian-born counterparts in the labour market, she noted. Among Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada in the late 1970s, the unemployment rate is now 2.5 percentage points lower than the rate of those born in Canada. “They’re highly successful,” she said, adding that this bodes well for the Syrian cohort.

In Calgary, home to the country’s highest unemployment rate, service providers are seeking new ways to link newcomers with work. One is offering more training in entrepreneurship, says Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

“I have a soap-maker, I have a guy who used to make beautiful handicrafts, people in catering and a woman who makes food that’s very popular. … So there is that potential,” he says. The other area with promise is where temporary foreign workers used to work, Mr. Birjandian says. Now that the TFW program has been scaled back, “we’re moving in to fill that gap” with newcomers, he says.

Most newcomers arrived as government-assisted or privately sponsored refugees, and Mr. Birjandian and other service providers say the transition is especially hard among government-assisted refugees, who tend to have lower skills and less fluency when they arrive.

More than half of privately sponsored Syrians who arrived by March 1 have already found employment, preliminary findings from an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada survey show. The employment rate, however, among government-assisted refugees is about 12 per cent.

Mr. Birjandian, who himself came to Canada as a refugee 28 years ago from Iran, says it will take time to adjust. “This is a group that came with a lot of trauma, a lot of issues. We should look at this longer-term, for them to recover, coming to a country like Canada with no language, it makes it 100 times harder.”

Learning one of the official languages is crucial to labour-market integration – though here, too, there are difficulties. Service providers in Surrey, B.C., Calgary and Toronto all told The Globe and Mail there are now long wait lists for classes.

Wait times “are an issue because the longer you wait to get into an English or French class, the longer it takes you to integrate, the longer it takes you to get a job, and the more frustrated you get and the more difficult your integration experience can become,” Prof. Wilkinson says.

Some people are getting discouraged. In north Scarborough, Ont., Fadi Alsheikh is a former dentist and dental surgeon who spent 11 years practising and partnering with the Red Cross in different cities in Syria.

Mr. Alsheikh, 35, arrived in Canada in June, after a stressful seven-month period in Lebanon, when his family lived in fear of deportation. One wall he has hit: All of his university certificates and work-related documents are in Arabic. Getting them translated into English costs $40 a page – an expense he cannot afford.

“It’s been very hard, this change,” he says through an interpreter.

In Toronto, Mr. Almekdad, 45, hopes that employers will understand that, rather than a four-year employment gap, he acquired valuable skills in that time, such as resiliency and adaptability. He doesn’t want to rely on assistance. He just needs a chance to prove himself.

“I want to find a job before the end of the first year, because it’s a long time to sit and wait. Canada to me means many things, and one is to find a job or a business at last. You know, you’re not feeling like a citizen if you don’t have a job, to belong to the place.”


Employers find success hiring 'amazing' Syrian refugees

Some employers have found a solid business case for hiring newcomers. In Hamilton, Coppley Ltd., a maker of custom-tailored, high-end men’s clothing that started in 1883, is one.

Sewing is a lost art in Canada, so it can be difficult finding Canadian-born workers with the right skills, says Julie Dubber, finance and human-resources manager. She hired a Syrian wife and husband in January, and the company now has about 20 workers who are Syrian refugees.

“These folks are amazing. They are so thrilled to have the things that we take so much for granted – their safety. I was speaking to a lady the other day and she actually was shot when she was in Syria. And she saw her co-workers in her place of employment killed. So she comes here every day and she’s thrilled because she’s safe.”

There have been some challenges along the way – the company held a routine fire-alarm drill without realizing it would startle some new hires, prompting co-workers to offer assurances of safety. English can be limited, but the company has other workers who can translate. Staff have become used to giving hand signals, and when necessary hire outside interpreters.

Not all hires have proven a good fit – but most have. “They show up for work every day, they’re happy, they are very hard workers, they’re starting their lives all over and a lot of the folks coming here are very highly skilled, very well-educated,” Ms. Dubber says.

Halifax has had success in matching refugees with jobs. After realizing many Syrian newcomers were anxious to quickly get to work, one agency introduced bridge-to-work programs that prepare people to enter the work force and link newcomers with employers in areas such as construction, hospitality, trades and the food industry. So far, about 40 Syrians have found jobs through this bridging program. A trades practical-assessment program assesses those with experience even if they lack documentation or have limited English, says Gerry Mills, executive director of the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.

“Employers know that refugees and immigrants have a great work ethic, and they’re great employees – they stay.”

– Tavia Grant






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Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Refugees find safety, thanks to immigration society

Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Refugees find safety, thanks to immigration society

Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Refugees find safety, thanks to immigration society


Published on: December 2, 2016 | Last Updated: December 2, 2016 5:40 AM MST


ISIS terrorists robbed George Darmo’s store. They threatened to kidnap him, kill his family and blow up his children’s school.

Targeted by the radical group because he is Christian, Darmo knew he and his family needed to find a safer place to live. Someplace far from Syria.

One night, he, his wife Nasma and his mother Awikel decided they couldn’t stay any longer. The next morning, they packed their car, loading the couple’s young children, clothing, important papers and jewelry.

And they drove to Lebanon, the first stop on their long journey to Canada.

They are just one of the 917 refugees privately sponsored by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society in 2016.

Speaking through interpreter Anoush Newman, the Darmo family shared the story of their lives, to help raise awareness of the important work CCIS does in the city.

The 2016 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund donations for CCIS will go toward rent, groceries, English classes and other integration aid for new Canadians. “One hundred per cent goes toward refugees,” says Fariborz Birjandian, the society’s chief executive.

Only a short time after the Darmo family fled Syria, more than 200 of their family members and friends were kidnapped by ISIS. Some were murdered. George’s store was looted and burned. Most of their town was destroyed. They don’t know what has happened to their house. There’s no one left to tell them.

Awikel cries as they share this part of their story.

Life in Lebanon wasn’t easy, either. They lived in a refugee camp and sold the women’s jewelry to pay for living expenses. The kids had access to school, but only occasionally and it was expensive.

“It was hard to see the kids not at school,” Nasma says. “And we worried that ISIL would move into Lebanon.”

Meanwhile, in Calgary, George’s cousin had approached CCIS to see if his relatives could be sponsored. The request was approved and on Dec. 27, 2015, the Darmo family boarded the plane to Canada.


At the time, David, 11, knew only a few words of English: “Yes, no, hi!” he says with a grin.

But within a few weeks of being in Canada, he and his sister, Kailen, 8, had made new friends. They walk to school every morning and their little brother, Ralph, only four years old, will join them soon. David plays soccer — his favourite sport — and he dreams of helping people when he’s older, the same way his own family has been helped.

George found a job at a furniture warehouse, but after four months he was laid off because of the economic downturn.

Now, the three adults are focusing on English classes and finding work.

And they’ve decorated their home — the first time since they fled Syria — to mark their first Christmas in their new country.

“We are very grateful to be here,” Nasma says with a big smile.

“We don’t have fear anymore every time we step out of the house.”

The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society is a recipient of the 2016 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund.You can help its work by going here to donate to the fund.

The current total of the 2016 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund is: $68,422.88.

Significant numbers for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society

1981 — The year the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society was incorporated. It is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

6,500 — The approximate number of refugees sponsored by CCIS since becoming a Sponsorship Agreement Holder in 1979.

423 — The number of Syrian refugees privately sponsored by CCIS from September 2014 to November 2016.

917 — The total number of refugees from around the world sponsored by CCIS, from January to November 2016.

7 — Number of countries of origin for refugees brought to Calgary — Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria, Sudan, Tibet and Somalia.

70 — The number of programs CCIS offers to new immigrants and refugees. They include Support for Survivors of Torture as well as the Refugee Child Enhanced Settlement Integration Project, which helps children adapt to the school system in Alberta.

1,500 — The number of volunteers behind the scenes at CCIS.

60 — The number of languages spoken by CCIS staff and volunteers.

$35,000 — The rough cost of privately sponsoring one refugee family (four or five people) to come to Calgary.

10 — The number of months it took to receive their visas and tickets after the Darmo family’s application was approved to come to Canada from Syria.





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Group says it'll be ready despite large delay for language class

Group says it'll be ready despite large delay for language class


Posted Sep 6, 2016 9:33 pm MDT

Communities across Canada are gearing up to welcome Syrian refugees this fall as the pace of arrivals in Canada will be increasing in the coming weeks.

Calgary itself is still dealing with a large wait-list for those new Canadians for language classes once they arrive.

Executive Director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society Fariborz Birjandian says the list is currently sitting at 1,500 which is approximately 2 months.

The one piece of good news is that wait list does appear to be getting smaller, just a few months ago it sat at 2,000.

“When the government says they’re ready, they’re saying in the context of ‘yes they’re ready but they’re not going into those details’,” he said. “In Alberta they have invested a lot of money, spending about $15-million to buy more seats.”

Birjandian says other cities in Canada don’t see the same issues as southern Alberta because Calgary is more attractive to immigrants.

“It is going down (the waitlist) but I think it all depends on the numbers coming, this is nothing new to Calgary, we’ve had a wait list for about 20 years,” he said. “In the past eight months I know they have invested $15-17 million in Alberta to provide more seats but in addition to language classes, the child care is also a challenge.”

He said it’s been difficult for some mothers to be able to afford the class because they have 6 or 7 kids at home.

“The settlement of these people will take 3, 4 or 5 years, it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said. “Once we do a good job at settling the refugees, we can take them through this process step by step.”

“I don’t want to not highlight the importance of language classes but I know there’s always going to be something not going the way we want.”

They recently held a summer program where they took 150 children to summer camp and they’re having complete conversations now in English.

“Are they free of challenges? Of course not but at least they’re on the right track.”

He says they’re trying to push the government so any newcomers can access English classes within two months.

One of the big issues for not-for-profits is the newcomers can access these classes anytime they want and some are staying longer than they have, they’re hoping they can free up some of that space for new people.







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Calgary youth learning vital job skills to eliminate barriers to employment

Calgary youth learning vital job skills to eliminate barriers to employment



Syrian refugees among those benefitting under Skills Link program

CALGARY, Sept. 6, 2016 /CNW/ - A total of 48 high-risk Calgary youth, of which more than half are expected to be Syrian refugees and immigrants, will learn how to overcome barriers to employment, learn critical job skills and prepare to transition to the job market or return to school, the Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs announced today.

Minister Hehr, Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. The Society ensures that new Canadians are welcomed and that they are able to adjust to Canadian life while settling in Alberta.

The Enhancing Refugee Youth Employment Outcomes, a project to be delivered over a 33-week period under the Government of Canada's Skills Link program, will help 48 youth overcome barriers to employment and develop a wide range of jobs skills. Included in the program is a 10-week paid work experience where youth will be placed in entry-level private sector positions where demand is high.

Skills Link promotes skills and education as the key to labour market participation. Successful Skills Link projects include programs that provide group-based employability skills or upgrading critical on-the-job skills such as problem solving, time management and effective communication. Participants can also obtain specialized certification in areas such as health and safety and first aid. They are also connected with employers so they can gain paid work experience.

Skills Link is part of the Youth Employment Strategy (YES) and helps support young Canadians, including youth with disabilities, single parents, youth who have not completed high school, Indigenous youth, youth who are recent immigrants and youth living in rural or remote areas.


"Young Canadians facing employment barriers want to build their own future in the workforce and contribute to their communities at the same time. The Skills Link program aims to facilitate workplace experience and help them succeed in their careers and lives."
– The Honourable MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour

"The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society is to be congratulated for its great work in helping to settle, train and educate Syrian youth that have arrived here in Calgary. Thanks to the Government's Skills Link program, these young people will have great futures." 
– The Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs

"Refugees face many challenges in their new country. Studies and evidence indicate that youth within this population face additional challenges that need to be addressed in order to provide them with the ability to participate in all aspects of community life. Investments, such as this innovative program, are crucial in providing the required skills and motivation for young refugees to realize their potential and strive to achieve it."
– Fariborz Birjandian, CEO, Calgary Catholic Immigration Society

Quick Facts

  • Funding of more than $425,000 is being provided for the Enhancing Refugee Youth Employment Outcomes program.
  • New investments from Budget 2016 will permit Skills Link to serve 11,000 more youth than in the previous year.
  • In 2014–15, ESDC helped 6,563 youth under the Skills Link program.

Associated Link

Budget 2016

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Youth Employment Strategy

The Youth Employment Strategy (YES) is the Government of Canada's commitment to help youth make a successful transition to the workplace. The YES helps youth between the ages of 15 to 30 get the information and gain the skills, job experience and abilities they need to make a successful transition to the workforce. The YES includes Skills Link, Career Focus and Summer Work Experience, and is delivered by 11 federal departments.

  • Skills Link helps youth facing barriers to employment—including single parents, youth with disabilities, Indigenous youth, young newcomers and youth in rural and remote areas—to develop employability skills and gain experience they need to find a job or return to school.
  • Career Focus helps post-secondary graduates transition to the labour market through paid internships and helps provide youth with the information and experience they need to make informed career decisions, find a job and/or pursue advanced studies.
  • Summer Work Experience provides wage subsidies to employers to create summer employment for secondary and post-secondary students. The Summer Work Experience program includes Canada Summer Jobs.

Each year, the Government invests approximately $330 million in the YES to help young people gain the skills and experience they need to find and keep good jobs.

Budget 2016 builds on that amount and proposes to invest an additional $278.4 million in 2016–17 in the YES to help nurture and develop the underutilized talent of Indigenous youth, youth with disabilities, single parents and newcomers, by:

  • Creating new green jobs for youth;
  • Increasing the number of youth who access the Skills Link program, which helps young Canadians overcome barriers to employment;
  • Supporting employment opportunities in the heritage sector under the Young Canada Works program; and
  • Making new investments in the Canada Summer Jobs program

Skills Link Program

The Skills Link program is a component of the Government of Canada's Youth Employment Strategy (YES). Through funding for organizations, the Skills Link program helps youth overcome barriers to employment, develop a broad range of skills and knowledge in order to participate in the current and future labour market and to promote education and skills as being key to labour market participation. These barriers include, but are not limited to, challenges faced by recent immigrant youth, youth with disabilities, single parent youth, youth who have not completed high school, Indigenous youth, and youth living in rural or remote areas.

Skills Link aims to:

  • help youth overcome barriers to employment;
  • develop a broad range of skills and knowledge in order to participate in the current and future labour market; and
  • promote education and skills as being key to labour market participation.

SOURCE Employment and Social Development Cana




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@Kady's Watchlist for Sept. 6 – Keep an eye out for cabinet ministers on campus, kids!

@Kady's Watchlist for Sept. 6 – Keep an eye out for cabinet ministers on campus, kids!
Published on: September 6, 2016 | Last Updated: September 6, 2016 6:03 AM EDT


news sep62016


As thousands of Canadian students get ready to embark – or, in some cases, resume – their post-secondary educational adventures, key members of Team Trudeau will be heading back to school as well during a series of synchronized ministerial appearances set to take place on campuses across Canada throughout the day.

According to the various and sundry advisories sent out in advance of the day’s events, no fewer than five cabinet ministers are scheduled to “make major announcement[s] benefitting research” at universities in their respective home regions, including Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Dalhousie), International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Universite de Montreal), Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (University of Saskatchewan), Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi (University of Alberta) and Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr (University of Calgary).

Elsewhere on the post-secondary good news circuit, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc teams up with New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant to unveil new federal funding for infrastructure at the University of New Brunswick, with a similar event planned for Memorial University, where Public Services Minister Judy Foote will share the details.

Back on the mainland, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan – under whose ministerial portfolio much of the above noted funding will flow – makes her wayto the University of Waterloo for a reveal ceremony with the latest recipients to benefit from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

Meanwhile, before hitting the local campus, Hehr is slated to co-host a roundtable discussion on official languages, as well as stop by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society with new support “for Syrian youth facing employment barriers.”

Also out and about today: Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who will hold a town hall on electoral reform in Sidney this evening.

Finally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spends the day in Hong Kong while Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr kicks off a whirlwind tour of India, where he and an accompanying “business delegation” will “strengthen the energy relationship” between the two countries, as well “encourage investment in Canada’s natural resource and clean technology sectors.”







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After tumult of war, deaf Syrian family finds peace in Canada

After tumult of war, deaf Syrian family finds peace in Canada


After tumult of war, deaf Syrian family finds peace in Canada

News Stories, 21 March 2016



CALGARY, Canada, March 21 (UNHCR) – Profoundly deaf, Mohamad al Kawarit did not hear the gun shot ring out as he made his way to prayers at the mosque in Al-Harra, his hometown in southern Syria.

But when he felt a jolt of pain and saw blood gushing from his neck, the 15-year-old knew he had been struck by a bullet. Clutching his neck, he waited for the flashing lights of the ambulance that took him to hospital in Dara'a province.

The war in Syria, and that stray round in particular, sent Mohamad and his family – his father and three of his siblings are also deaf – to Lebanon. The family ultimately found safety in Canada as government-assisted refugees, stepping off a plane in this prairie city of 1.2 million people last December.

"If I say thank you to the Canadian Government and the Canadian people every day, it would not be enough," says Mohamad's mother, Souad Al Nouri, speaking through an interpreter in the tidy, sofa-lined living room of their new house.

As Souad shares her family's story, her husband and children quietly converse in sign language. Diana, 10, cradles the youngest brother – who has cerebral palsy – in her arms.

For the family of eight, life in Canada is a return to much-needed stability, after years spent in mortal danger and flight. In Al-Harra, Souad and her husband, Hassan al Kawarit, ran successful businesses, including a construction company and several bakeries. The children had the support they needed for their disabilities. "Our life in Syria was very good," says Souad.

After the conflict erupted five years ago, the family hoped to remain in al-Harra. "For the first few months, everything was okay," says Souad. But peace did not last, and they fled to another village in Syria.



They tried returning to Al-Harra a few months later, after gathering from news stories that it was safe to go back, but they found their home had been partially destroyed by fire. "No doors, no windows, nothing," recalls Souad.

The family tried to make it habitable by putting plastic sheeting over the windows, but their return proved to be short lived. A few months later Mohamad was shot, and then militants stormed the town, triggering a hurried evacuation. On the day they fled for the last time in 2014, 15 people were killed in the melee, Souad recalls.

The family first sought refuge in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, where they stayed in a refugee settlement in the town of Saadnayel, before eventually moving into a decrepit apartment. "Our situation got turned upside down," says Souad.

The children were not in school, and the disruption took its toll. "They were like someone in the desert who doesn't know where to go," she said.

The family registered with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and sought resettlement. When the call came informing them that they had been selected for resettlement to Canada, Souad wept. "I cannot describe the feeling," she says. "I was so happy." Hassan and the children danced for joy. "It was like a birthday party."

Partnering with UNHCR, Canada has resettled more than 26,000 Syrian refugees since November. Most are government-assisted refugees like Souad's family, who have been initially resettled in 36 communities around the country, where they receive a one-time start-up allowance plus monthly support.

"Resettling refugees is a proud part of Canada's humanitarian tradition," says Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for the Government agency Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. "It demonstrates to the world that we have a shared responsibility to help those who are displaced, persecuted and most in need of protection."

Once government-assisted refugees arrive in Canada, NGOs help them settle in. The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, or CCIS, found a house for Souad and Hassan to rent on a quiet street in one of the city's most multicultural neighbourhoods. The agency also assisted with furnishing their new place, setting up bank accounts and help them enrol in services including healthcare.

The agency stays in close contact with the family. "We follow up with them until they will be okay," says Ashour Esho, the family's resettlement counsellor with CCIS.


The newcomers also get informal support from Syrian Refugees Support Group Calgary, an organization of local volunteers who provide refugees with furniture and other items. The volunteers make a point of befriending the newcomers.

Souad has found a good friend in Honne Jeha, a local mother and one of the volunteers. "If she needs something," says Jeha, "I'm here."

Jeha helped Souad and Hassan register their children for school, and showed them where to buy Middle Eastern food and how to get to the children's hospital. "They still need help just to adjust to life," says Jeha. "To get around. Because everything's foreign to them."

Even so, three months into their life in Canada, Souad feels at home. "In Canada, I am in Syria," she says. "It's like my country. The people are friendly. They are good-hearted. I am so happy here."

Now the family faces the challenges of learning English and finding work. To this end, Souad has begun language classes five days a week. Hassan hopes to do the same soon. "If they learn the language, they will be okay," says Esho. "But for now, that's why we are with them. To help them. To ask: what do you need?"

The children go to three different schools in Calgary, according to their needs. After being out of school for nearly two years in Lebanon, they are relishing being in a classroom again. "The kids found themselves here," says Souad. "They found their direction."

Her daughter Nour, 12, wants to be a teacher. Ahmad, 14, wants to be a doctor. And Mohamad is impressing everyone with his navigation skills. "Mohamad amazes me," says Jeha. "He's deaf but he's so incredibly smart." He's a whiz at getting around Calgary on the transit system, often going to a nearby recreation centre to lift weights.

"He doesn't know English, but he's able to add addresses into the phone," says Jeha. "He's adapted very well."

Looking ahead, Souad is optimistic that her family will thrive in the country that welcomed them in their time of need. "I dream that my kids will do something good for Canada, because Canada saved us," she says. "We have to give that back."

By Jeremy Klaszus in Calgary, Canada





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Syrian refugee networking event aims to connect newcomers with jobs

Syrian refugee networking event aims to connect newcomers with jobs


Calgary Catholic Immigration Society hosted event Tuesday morning

By Tricia Lo, CBC News Posted: Mar 15, 2016 5:02 PM MT Last Updated: Mar 15, 2016 5:02 PM MT

Samer Oubed — a refugee who arrived in Calgary three months ago with his wife and two boys — has spent the last three months struggling to find a job despite his degree in economics and accounting, and his ten years of management experience.

As with many other Calgarians, the deep oil slump has dampened Oubed's employment prospects.

"Before I came to here, I thought I can find a job because I have many qualifications, but unfortunately the economic situation in Calgary and all of Alberta is so hard," he said.

But unlike most Calgarians, Oubed has the added challenge of adapting to a new culture, language and way of life. 

On Tuesday, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society hosted a networking event to help immigrant and refugee newcomers like Oubed write resumes and hone interview skills.


"They're scared," said organizer Olivia Rocskar.

"They're saying, 'Why isn't my technical skill enough?' It's not. It isn't enough," she said. 

"To tell somebody that you have to change after 20, 30 years of doing things a certain way in order to succeed is really tough," she said.

"It's a hard lesson, but it's an important lesson. I think the people in this room are the ones that are putting it into practice."

Oubed said he's holding out hope that oil prices will continue to rise, and that job prospects will improve as they do. 

In the mean time, he and his wife will continue taking classes to improve their English language skills.

"It's wonderful to meet people, to discuss with them, to know about their experience in Calgary and all things in Calgary, in jobs, in life, in everything," he said.

"It's a great meeting."

With files from Allison Dempster



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Budget hotel transformed into first Canadian home for Syrian refugees in Calgary

Budget hotel transformed into first Canadian home for Syrian refugees in Calgary


Budget hotel transformed into first Canadian home for Syrian refugees in Calgary

Published on: February 29, 2016 | Last Updated: February 29, 2016 7:57 AM MST







A toddler eagerly explores the lobby of a Calgary hotel with her older brothers as their parents and grandma wait for the plastic keys to their first temporary home in Canada.

Hotel key cards in hand, the family soon carries their few possessions — a couple of bags and a fleece Red Cross blanket — down a dimly lit hallway to a small room with two tidy beds and framed mountain landscapes on the walls.

The Hashma family will spend their first days and nights in Calgary at this budget hotel alongside more than 100 other government-sponsored Syrian refugees. 

The number of newcomers staying at the hotel fluctuates daily as Syrian families such as the Hashmas arrive directly from the airport by taxi, and others are moved from the six-floor building into permanent accommodation across the city. The average hotel stay is 15 days. Larger families often stay longer because finding housing can be challenging. 

As the 14-month-old girl and her six and eight-year-old brothers play with their grandma’s wheelchair in the hallway, their parents are debriefed on life at the hotel by an Arabic-speaking staff member with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. 

There’s a play area for kids in room 122, a health clinic in room 130 and a catered meal of salad, rice, kebabs, tomatoes, bread and yogurt waiting for the family in a sunny lunchroom down the hallway.  

“Canada is good,” says Mr. Hashma, through a translator. 



The hotel, which Postmedia has chosen not to name because of concerns about guest safety, has been transformed by CCIS staff into a makeshift resettlement centre. It’s the largest temporary refugee accommodation the non-profit organization has ever established.

It’s a big operation, and signs that dozens of families new to Canada are living in the facility among everyday hotel guests are everywhere. Arabic echoes through the long hallways as kids run to the lunchroom. The desk in a small office CCIS uses on the main floor is hidden behind a maze of diaper boxes, jugs of juice and boxes of bananas, apples and oranges. Staff ordered a plethora of fresh fruit when sick children started arriving at the hotel. 

In a room in the basement, the standard hotel furniture has been removed and replaced by tiny, brightly coloured chairs; the walls covered with children’s artwork. A sign at the building’s front desk has been translated into Arabic. A certified lifeguard regularly visits the facility’s swimming pool to supervise organized swim times. Every day, hundreds of ethnic meals are brought in by a caterer and served for lunch and dinner in a small hotel dinning room. 

“We had to reorganize this hotel for the needs of these people,” says Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of CCIS, while walking through the hotel on a recent weekday visit. 

“It’s not perfect but we’re doing whatever we can to make their stay more pleasant.”

More than 900 Syrian refugees — almost evenly split between government-sponsored and privately sponsored categories — have landed in Calgary since the Trudeau government pledged to rapidly resettle 25,000 Syrians across the country by the end of February. 


After risking their lives to seek refuge, every government-sponsored refugee from Syria who settles in Calgary goes directly to this hotel or the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre — a facility with space for 75 people and on-site amenities, including a playground, laundry and health clinic. 

The resettlement centre in northeast Calgary has long provided temporary accommodation to government-assisted refugees, but the hotel was a quick fix, established by CCIS as the organization prepared to spend just a few months re-settling twice the number of government-sponsored refugees it would typically help in an entire year.  

In less than three months, the Calgary hotel and existing resettlement centre have seen 590 government-sponsored Syrians come through the doors. 

“We’re crazy busy,” says Afewerki Ocbasilassie, a CCIS resettlement and integration counsellor. “We do everything. Everything.”

Some newcomers land in Calgary on late-night flights, meaning CCIS staff work around the clock. Daylight hours are filled with a multitude of tasks, including hosting orientation sessions at which families learn the basics of Canadian life and go over topics such as housing, transportation, hygiene, education and Canadian law. Paperwork is filled out so parents can get the needed documentation to enrol their children in school, get a bank account and see a doctor.

“What we have to do in two weeks (at the hotel) is prepare them to be able to function on their own with limited support,” Birjandian says. 


It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding says Ocbasilassie, who knows first-hand some of the challenges these newcomers will face. 

Ocbasilassie moved to Calgary as a refugee from Sudan six years ago and is proud he now works for the same non-profit organization that helped him settle in Canada. 

“I’d been there as a client, I’d been there as a volunteer and now I’m working with them,” says Ocbasilassie. “I know what my clients need because I was a client once.” 

The needs of government-sponsored refugees arriving from Syria range widely. Some come with almost no possessions and are given basic toiletries and donations of clothes and toys at the hotel-turned-resettlement centre. Some come hungry after weeks of irregular meals in refugee camps. Many need emotional support, and bonds quickly form among the newcomers and CCIS staff. 

“We sit with them, we listen to their problems. We listen to what they’ve gone through, what they’re fearing in the future,” says Bindu Narula, a refugee and immigration issues strategist at CCIS who is co-ordinating the efforts at the Calgary hotel.

The makeshift resettlement centre is paid for by funding available through the federal government’s Resettlement Assistance Program. Birjandian said the bills for the hotel operations are $80 per room, per night (a minimum of three people stay in each room) and about $25 per person, per day, for food. 


A contract with the hotel was established late last year, and Syrians started arriving Jan. 1. 

“We had no idea who was coming at first,” Birjandian said. “Suddenly we saw this family of 10 people with eight children, all aged 12 and under.”

By the second week in January, 150 people, more than half of them young children, were staying at the hotel. With no playground at the facility, many kids were entertaining themselves in the hallways and lobby. The hotel provided CCIS with a downstairs room where a Kids’ Club was established. Staffed six hours a day by paid CCIS employees and volunteers, the space gives children an opportunity to learn basic English, read, draw and play before they move from the hotel and enrol in school. 

“We have a lot of kids that haven’t had any education,” says Narula. “If you’re six years old, you’ve been in war for the past four. Chances are you haven’t gone to school and, if you have, it’s been a refugee camp and it’s hit or miss.” 



Seham Shaban, a CCIS employee who teaches children at the Kids’ Club, writes the name of each child staying in the temporary lodging on a file folder and fills the folder with the drawings and writing they create during their stay. When each child leaves for their new Calgary home, the folder offering a snapshot into their first days in Canada goes with them. 

“One day a father came to me and started crying,” Shaban says. “He said the hotel was the first time he’d seen his 12-year-old son writing or reading.”

The large number of young children staying at the hotel has also spurred CCIS staff to arrange frequent field trips, including outings to the Calgary Zoo and sports facilities.

On a recent weekday, dozens of children and a few moms line up outside the hotel and follow CCIS employee Michaela Hiebert on a walk to a nearby recreation centre for a workshop with Green Fools Theatre Society.  




At the centre, laughter fills a large gym as the kids spend two hours dancing, playing, watching a magic show, and trying out circus props, including stilts and diabolo toys with help from theatre staff.

“It’s the most rewarding work you’ll ever do,” Hiebert says of hanging out with Calgary’s newest young residents. “These kids are so happy all the time. They have lots of energy and lots of love.”



Back at the hotel, CCIS staff receive a surprise visit from two young adults who moved with their siblings and parents from the hotel into a permanent home four days earlier.

In their first trip outside of their new Calgary community, the young men have navigated Calgary’s public transportation system set on finding their way back to the hotel. They tell staff they want to come back and volunteer at the hotel and help fellow refugees. 

Hugs and hearty laughs are exchanged as the men reunite with the only faces they know in Calgary — the CCIS staff who made them feel welcome during their first weeks in this city.

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More private-sector to help find housing for Syrian refugees in Calgary

More private-sector to help find housing for Syrian refugees in Calgary



CALGARY - Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says a new infusion of private-sector funds should help address one aspect of the city's Syrian refugee response that's been more challenging than expected.

Nenshi says the city was surprised by how difficult it's been to find big enough accommodations for large families — with many children or multiple generations under one roof.

Community Foundations of Canada announced today that the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society will be receiving $600,000 for direct support to refugee households.

It's the first contribution from the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees, which was started with $500,000 in seed money from Manulife Financial in December.

Canadian National Railway has donated $5 million to the fund and General Motors has given $50,000.

Nenshi says government and not-for-profit efforts have gone a long way, but the corporate contributions are necessary for the final stretch.

Local real estate firms have already chipped in, offering free rent for the first few months or setting aside discounted units.

"We have seen more very large families than we were expecting, families with many, many children. And the housing for those families, or multigenerational families, has been more challenging than we expected and the supply of four-bedroom homes or larger has been hard," Nenshi said.

"So in that area, this announcement today will help us a lot in order to free up our access to that kind of housing."

Following the announcement at a resettlement centre for newcomers in Calgary, a group of children sang a song, ending it off with a cheer of "We love Canada!"

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, said 900 refugees have landed in Calgary from Syria so far — half sponsored by government and half privately.

Another 200 are expected by the end of the month, he said.

Birjandian said refugees have spent an average of about 16 days in temporary accommodation before they're settled in permanent homes. Right now 150 are in temporary housing.

Birjandian said he expects 500 to 550 refugees will benefit from the Welcome Fund contribution.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship minister John McCallum said given the success settling refugees in the city so far, "I wouldn't be surprised if we asked Calgary to do a little bit more."



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‘Welcome Fund’ established to help settle Syrian refugees

‘Welcome Fund’ established to help settle Syrian refugees





CALGARY – There’s new funding coming to help resettle Syrian refugees in Canada.

“Bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada is the easy part,” Federal Immigration Minister John McCallum said in Calgary Thursday. “Finding homes for them is the challenge.”

The “Welcome Fund” was established by three corporate giants – Manulife, General Motors and CN Rail.  CN contributed $5M to the fund.

“The more companies can step up, and the more quickly they can step up, the better it will be for all of these refugees to find a home in Canada,” McCallum said.

The first recipient of the fund is the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which will receive $600,000.

“This injection of cash actually allows us to put people across Calgary, that has been one of our goals,” said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “About 500 to 600 people who will benefit from that immediately.”

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said the money will help larger families find homes.

“We have seen more very large families than we were expecting – families with many many children,” Nenshi said.

Several Syrian refugees, including an 88-year-old recent arrival to Canada, were at the news conference for the announcement.

“If their heart wasn’t very kind, these words would not come out of their mouths,” said Ibrihim Younus through a translator.

“God bless the Canadian people and the Canadian government,” said Layla Younus, Ibrihim’s daughter, also through a translator.



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CNN: Canadian city welcomes Syrian immigrants

CNN: Canadian city welcomes Syrian immigrants

CNN: Canadian city welcomes Syrian immigrants


By Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, CNN

Updated 3:01 PM ET, Thu February 11, 2016








(CNN)From the outside, it looks like senior citizen housing on the outskirts of downtown Calgary, Alberta. Inside, it is anything but. Scores of children run the halls, and they cry, laugh and play with each other as their parents huddle at cafeteria-style tables.

As we walk in with our camera gear, their eyes focus sharply.

That's when you notice something is out of place: the very people you are looking at. Women are wearing headscarves, and the men are shorter and hardened. And there are children everywhere. Huge families, some with as many as nine children, huddle as volunteers begin dinner.

They have all been plucked from Syrian refugee camps across the Middle East, selected by Canadian security and diplomatic workers who first screen each potential immigrant, then determine where in Canada they will go.

Canada is on a path to accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February. They will go to government-sponsored resettlement houses across several provinces.

Up to 1,500 will be resettled in Calgary, and this resettlement house on the outskirts of downtown will be their first stop.

The Margaret Chisholm Resettlement House is privately run by Calgary's Catholic Immigration Society. Under its contract, its staff and volunteers will be paid to turn these freshly arrived Syrians into Canadians. Anoush Newman, one of the directors, says the refugees have been homeless and countryless for so long, they are yearning for any place that will welcome them.

Countries surrounding Syria "don't give them citizenship," Newman says. "So they remain refugees for the rest of their lives."

Ziad Hendaoi is a father of four who arrived with his children and wife just 10 days ago. He speaks little English but explains that his family fled Aleppo, Syria, when his neighborhood was bombed.

They lived in a refugee camp in Lebanon, where Canadian officials screened him for this program.

Asked if he misses Syria, he answers "yes with all my heart." But he says that for the first time in a long time, he feels his family is safe, and Canada is his new home.

From stalemate to slaughter: On the front lines of the battle for Aleppo

Fariborz Birjandin, the program's director, says his goal is to turn these newly landed immigrants into Canada's next generation of citizens.

"You won't even recognize these kids in three months," he says. "We realize they have a lot of fears and a lot of hope. Ten days ago, they didn't even know they were coming to Canada."

Under the program, the children will go to school, and the parents will be taught Canadian customs, Canadian law and will be aided in finding work. For the next two years, they will be involved in an intensive resettlement program that Birjandin calls a wrap-around system. Social workers, volunteers and professionals will surround the families with everything they need to assimilate into Canadian life. In their third year in Canada, the refugees can apply to become full citizens.

"They're fantastic people that've gone thru hell," Birjandin says. "They have lost their homes, they have lost everything they had and became refugees."

Now, from the generosity of the Canadian government, these war-torn Syrians are being welcomed with open arms in their new and, he says, hopefully permanent home.






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Calgary's refugee success could mean more Syrians coming to the city: Minister of Immigration

Calgary's refugee success could mean more Syrians coming to the city: Minister of Immigration

Calgary's refugee success could mean more Syrians coming to the city: Minister of Immigration

Thursday a $600,000 contribution from the Welcome Fund For Syrian Refugees was given to the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society



By:  Metro Published on Thu Feb 11 2016

Bring on the refugees, Calgary's ready.

In a crowded room filled with business executives, politicians and refugees who now call Calgary home, Fariborz Birjandian, the CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society put out a challenge for the Canadian government – which The Honourable John McCallum, federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship heard loud and clear.

On Thursday, the Community Foundations of Canada announced a $600,000 contribution from the Welcome Fund For Syrian Refugees given to the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. The money, contributed by private sector businesses like CN, Manulife and GM, will be used to help settle refugees into permanent housing.

"I think the capacity for the numbers, we're anticipating another 200 people arriving by the end of February, we're prepared for that," Birjandian said. "Additionally with this injection of cash we're in a much better position to secure housing…if the provincial government, in discussion with the feds, decides to send more people in Calgary, I think we're ready."

Compared to other cities welcoming refugees, so far Calgary has fared well, and we're able to house new families on average within 15 days. But Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there's still a challenge ahead with large families, and multigenerational families.

"We're doing great, the capacity is there," said Nenshi. "We have seen more very large families than we were expecting, families with many many children, and the housing for those families, and multigenerational families, has been more challenging than we expected. Supply of four bedroom homes or larger has been hard. So in that area, this announcement today is going to help us a lot.

According to Birjandian, the new funds will help give $500 subsidies to families – about 550 people – which would facilitate faster moves into permanent housing. He added the money would also help diversify the areas within Calgary where refugees are settled.


"This injection of cash actually allows us to put people across Calgary," Birjandian said. "That's been one of our goals."

Minister McCallum said Canada expects to welcome the full 25,000 refugees promised by the end of February, but that he wouldn't be surprised if Calgary, a success story for refugee settlement, is asked to take on more.




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Calgary first to receive Syrian refugee fund

Calgary first to receive Syrian refugee fund




Calgary first to receive Syrian refugee fund

Calgary is the first Canadian city to receive support from the Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees.

The inaugural recipient is the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), which will receive $600,000 to provide refugee housing support.

The CEO of the CCIS, Fariborz Birjandian, said about 900 of the expected 1,200 refugees coming to Calgary have arrived, but about 100 of them are still living in temporary housing. He said the money will help them move into permanent homes.

“We looked at the different scenarios, and we felt that if they give us $500 to supplement their families, so we can actually help 80 to 100 units. That would be about 500 o 550 people,” Birjandian said.

The fund is supported by Manulife, CN and GM.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said on Thursday, meeting housing needs of refugees continues to be an urgent priority in Calgary, and corporate partnerships like this ensure that happens.

“We have over $20 million if you count contributions in all different areas,” McCallum said. “If you count contributions only to this housing fund, I believe the number is $6.1 million.”

He said he hopes national contributions eventually top $50 million.

CN executive vice-president Shawn Finn extended a challenge to other businesses to step up.

“CN has done its share, so has Manulife,” Finn said. “The banks have done a good effort. Corporate Canada must do its share to help the Government of Canada and the Syrian refugees resettle.”

Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi added this donation is just the beginning, and he too called on other businesses across the country to make sure they’re doing their part as well.

“Whether that’s through great donations like today, whether that’s ensuring that employment opportunities are available to new Canadians, whether that’s supporting people with language training in the workplace,” Nenshi said.

In total, corporations have given about $20 million nationally to help Syrian refugees.





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Local charity to receive new funding

Local charity to receive new funding

Local charity to receive new funding





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Federal immigration minister says Calgary could take more Syrian refugees

Federal immigration minister says Calgary could take more Syrian refugees


Published on: February 11, 2016 | Last Updated: February 11, 2016 1:04 PM MST



Immigration Minister John McCallum says Calgary could be asked to take in more Syrian refugees given the city’s relative success in resettling people fleeing the war-torn region.

McCallum was in the city Thursday for the announcement of $600,000 in funding to the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society from the private sector-sponsored Welcome Fund for Syrian Refugees.

About 900 Syrian refugees have come to Calgary so far, with just over 100 remaining in hotels or the Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre.

Calgary is expected to take about 1,200-1,300 refugees out of the approximately 3,000 the Alberta government has said it will accept. The federal Liberal government has promised to bring in 25,000 in total, though it missed its initial year-end deadline.

Fairborz Birjandian, CEO of the Catholic Immigration Society, said that if the federal and provincial government decide to send more refugees to Calgary they can be accommodated.

McCallum said the city had done a “fantastic job” in accepting refugees.

“I know that Calgary is doing extremely well,” said McCallum, the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

“Our objective is to settle all of the 25,000 as positively and comfortably and effectively as we can and from what I’ve just heard, I think Calgary could take a few more.” 

The money announced Tuesday from the Welcome Fund, which is backstopped by Manulife, CN and GM, will be used for housing by helping to subsidize rent for accommodations.




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Despite economic troubles, Alberta welcomes Syrian refugees

Despite economic troubles, Alberta welcomes Syrian refugees




OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail


Last updated


Albertans are opening their arms to incoming Syrian refugees looking for housing, social support and work, even as the province’s economy suffers from a slump in oil prices.

Alberta will resettle between 2,500 and 3,000 Syrian refugees as a part of the Canadian government’s commitment to resettle tens of thousands this year. As of Friday, more than 1,900 Syrian refugees had arrived in Alberta, according to a government database, concentrated in five cities across the province: Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.

Resettlement agencies say they have a strong handle on the influx of refugees arriving at their doorstep and the organizations have been astounded by the response from communities to help the newcomers.

“We are extremely overwhelmed by the generosity of the people coming forward, volunteering their time, their services,” said Anoush Newman, Syrian Refugees Taskforce Project Co-ordinator at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

“Groups are contacting us saying: ‘We are a group of grandmothers who would like to knit mitts and scarves [for refugees].’”

Despite recent requests from other major Canadian cities to delay the arrival of new Syrian refugees for a few days because of housing backlogs, Ms. Newman said Calgary has the situation under control. She said families have had good access to health care, English-as-a-second-language classes and schooling and have been spending relatively little time – a week or two – in temporary housing, such as hotels.

“The only challenge we had was large families, over seven, eight members, because finding reasonable accommodation for families of eight, nine, 10 is a challenge.”

The story is similar in Lethbridge. The city has resettled more than 90 Syrian refugees as of Friday. Sarah Amies, director of the Immigrant Services department of Lethbridge Family Services, admits the refugee intake is a lot for a city with a population of nearly 95,000. She said there have been no barriers to social services for the refugees so far, aside from the fact that their monthly housing allowance often isn’t sufficient.

After Syrian refugees settle into the community, they set out to find work, an effort that may appear to be challenging in the face of Alberta’s soaring unemployment rate. The province’s unemployment rate reached 7.4 per cent in January, up from 7 per cent in December, according to Statistics Canada data released Friday. Alberta’s energy-driven economy has been hit hard by a severe drop in oil prices.

However, the outlook isn’t so grim for Syrian refugees, according to experts. University of Alberta associate political science professor Reza Hasmath said most refugees won’t be taking jobs from unemployed Albertans. “They’re competing for the jobs that previous migrants are competing for, and they’re competing for jobs that most Canadians no longer want to do,” Mr. Hasmath said. “So, irrespective of whether the economy is doing well or not, they’re not really competing with the general labour market.”

Mr. Hasmath said one of the biggest issues for the refugees will be finding that available work because they don’t have easy access to the networks required to seek those jobs. That’s why Ms. Amies and Lethbridge Family Services are encouraging refugees to learn as much English as possible through government-funded classes before they enter the work force.

Much like Calgary and Lethbridge, the business community in Red Deer is also eager to hire Syrian refugees.

“Predominantly you’re talking about service-sector jobs, so that’s in food and beverage, or hotel and lodging. … While Alberta may be having some issues which are to do with natural resources, we have just come off years of labour shortages,” Red Deer Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Creedon said.

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‘They can always come to us,’: CCIS to refugees

‘They can always come to us,’: CCIS to refugees


‘They can always come to us,’: CCIS to refugees

CCIS said they have legal, housing, medical and many other resources available and offered in over 60 languages, including Arabic


By:  Metro Published on Mon Jan 18 2016

As hundreds of refugees attempt to settle in Calgary, a local agency and lawyer offer tips about resources, knowing your rights and accessing legal aide. 

Last week it came to light that some Syrian refugees were being asked to pay six months' rent upfront and they weren’t sure what resources were available to them.

Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), said their organization helps to settle hundreds of government and privately sponsored refugees each year. 

According to Birjandian, the biggest challenge CCIS is facing in resettling refugees is finding housing for large families. 

“We’d appreciate if people could come forward and show us houses that have four or five bedrooms,” he said.

Rob Omura, a local lawyer, said refugees who are looking for housing need to protect their interest and ask around - with help if necessary - to make sure they are getting a good deal. 

“I would recommend they go to Calgary Legal Guidance,” he said. “They would get a free one-hour consultation and that certainly is helpful in giving them some sort of basic idea as to what their rights are.”


Birjandian said if refugees are running into any issues with language barriers, housing, health care and more they should contact CCIS. 


“They can always come to us, that’s what we do,” he said. 

Birjandian said CCIS can help refugees who might feel overwhelmed, and they offer their services in 67 different languages, including Arabic.

“These people even two weeks ago had no clue they were going to come to Canada, and then everything happened,” he said. “Obviously when they arrive here with a large family and no English, there is tremendous challenges for them, all we can do is help them.”

Birjandian said just months after they arrive in Calgary, many refugees will be settling in very nicely. 

“There is a process people go through and in three months you will talk to them and things will be different,” he said. “Six months down the road they’ll be well settled and I can tell you this, out of hundreds many already moved into the community, have housing and children going to school—all in the last 30 days.”





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