Shawkat Hasan's journey to Canada began as a young boy in a refugee camp in the West Bank in the 1950s, when he found a little surprise in the pocket of a donated article of clothing.

"I got a piece of paper in one of the clothes they distribute, of someone saying, 'If you receive this paper, write me back,'" said Hasan, now the vice-president of social services with the B.C. Muslim Association.

"So I did and that person came from Abbotsford, from the Mennonite Church. I wrote back, and a few months later he came to visit me in the Middle East, in the refugee camp."

Hasan says that person supported him personally and financially, throughout his first few years in North America.

Bringing in refugee families

Now, Hasan is inviting members of the B.C.'s Muslim community to come together to sponsor at least 15 refugee families from Syria.

"We have asked every centre for our organization to sponsor a family," said Hasan, who is coordinating centres in places like Abbotsford, Prince George, Victoria, and Vancouver.

"That support lasts one year. For the first year we are responsible for every effort."

The association applied to become a Sponsorship Agreement Holder two months ago, according to Hasan.

Hasan said it would cost $450,000 to sponsor 15 families, based on an estimate of $30,000 to support a family of four.

Some of the things for which each centre is responsible include picking up families from the airport, furnishing a rented apartment, stocking fridges with food, and registering with government services.

"If the family is Muslim... they need Halal food. They need to know where to buy it," said Hasan.

"If there is an issue, trauma, with the kids or family ... we try to accommodate them and have somebody speak the same language."

Hasan said the association raised close to $1 million in the past for natural disaster relief efforts around the world.

About 2,500 Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in the province in the coming months, with several hundred arriving by the end of the year.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that it costs $450,000 to sponsor a family of four. That amount is in fact what the B.C. Muslim Association was raising to sponsor 15 families, with four members each. The article also stated that they had raised $1 million to go towards sponsoring refugees, but that amount was raised by the association in the past for natural disaster relief efforts around the world.
    Nov 27, 2015 12:16 PM PT