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HALIFAX: Syrian migrants flock to food banks

Syrian refugees flock to Halifax food bank to make ends meet

200 more refugees expected to arrive in Nova Scotia in the next week

CBC News Posted: Feb 22, 2016 1:26 PM AT Last Updated: Feb 22, 2016 1:26 PM AT

Rajhed Al Turkmani says Canadians have done more for him than he ever expected. He moved to Halifax one month ago.

Rajhed Al Turkmani says Canadians have done more for him than he ever expected. He moved to Halifax one month ago. (Jonathan Villeneuve/Radio-Canada)

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A Syrian refugee says moving to Canada has been a better experience than he ever expected, despite needing to use the food bank to help feed his family of five.

Rajhed Al Turkmani’s family is one of more than 50 Arabic-speaking families who have started using a Halifax food bank since January.

The demand is so big, the Parker Street Food and Furniture bank sent out a plea for Arabic-speaking volunteers.

On Monday morning, the building was filled with families — many of them Syrian refugees — looking to stock up on fruit, bread and cans of food.

“I know that the majority of the families are shopping at Walmart,” said Hana Kahale, a life skills worker at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, who came to help translate.

“He heard that here they give for free — food,” she said, translating for Al Turkmani.

Al Turkmani, who is originally from Homs in western Syria, arrived in Halifax about one month ago. He says many of his friends recommended he turn to the food bank for help and he has no complaints about his experience moving to Halifax.

“Thank you Canada. Thank you Canada. I love you, Canada,” he said in English.

“They are giving us more than we expected,” Kahale translated as he spoke in Arabic.

What they get

Government-sponsored refugees receive the same amount of money as people on social assistance, said Gerry Mills, the director of operations for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.

Families receive $620 a month for rent. That number is standard — it doesn’t change whether the family has three members or 12.

As well, each adult receives $238 a month for food and goods. Children receive no money up front, but qualify for the child tax benefit, which is around $300 a month.

Gerry Mills

Gerry Mills, operations director for the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, says some refugees will depend on food banks as they transition to their new lives in Canada. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Mills says it can take three months for the child tax benefit to come through — and even then, it’s a struggle for refugee families and families on social assistance to make ends meet.

“There’s nowhere in this city where you can get an apartment for $620,” she said. “The child tax benefit usually also pays most of the rent as well. So no, I don’t see that getting any better.”

Deadline is March 1

The need is set to increase. Mills says her organization is expecting another 200 refugees to arrive in Nova Scotia in the next week alone.

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