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CALGARY: Support drying up for some Syrian migrants

Calgary advocates fear support drying up for some Syrian newcomers
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Dec. 28 Syrian refugees arrive Calgary

Siblings Maryam, Ines, Shirin and Malak hold up welcome signs for newly-arrived Syrian refugees at the Calgary International Airport in Calgary, Ab., on Monday December 28, 2015. (Mike Drew/Calgary Sun)

Some Syrian newcomers to Calgary are struggling to get by after support from private sponsors has dried up, say local advocates.

Sam Nammoura has helped Syrian newcomers who’ve alleged abuse, manipulation and a complete lack of financial or emotional support from the relatives that sponsored their journey to Calgary and whom they now rely on for housing, food and assistance as they adjust to a new life in Canada.

“They’re isolated. They have zero help,” he said.

“They’re really suffering tremendously.”

Nammoura, who works closely with newcomers as co-founder of the Syrian Refugee Support Group, said these refugees are terrified of speaking up about their struggles and in desperate need of jobs.

“They’re afraid to say anything because family or friends brought them here and they don’t want to say anything bad to jeopardize the relationship,” he said.

“They’re being told, ‘I brought you to Canada and you’re on your own now.’”

While the government provides support and a monthly cheque to the thousands of government-assisted Syrian refugees who’ve settled in Canada, private sponsors are expected to pick up the tab for all of their refugees’ expenses for a year and provide them with emotional support.

Nammoura said in some instances that’s simply not happening, estimating about 75 refugees in Calgary are in difficult situations with their sponsors.

He noted a sudden change in a sponsor’s situation, such as a layoff or divorce, is sometimes to blame for a relative not keeping their commitment.

In other cases, he said relationships are strained because relatives haven’t had contact in years.

Since early November, 635 privately sponsored Syrian refugees have established new lives in Calgary, alongside 680 government-assisted Syrian refugees, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has long provided settlement and integration services to refugees in Southern Alberta and Fairborz Birjandian, the organization’s CEO, said he’s never seen so many privately sponsored refugees arrive in Calgary at one time.

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