British Columbia

Chinese-Canadians 'give back' by sponsoring Syrian refugees

A group of Chinese-Canadian immigrants and refugees are sponsoring a Syrian family of six. But they say not everyone in their community supports their efforts.
From left, Thomas Tam, Stanley Ng, Sandy Lu and Khi Trieu are part of a group sponsoring a Syrian refugee family of six. Tam hopes the experience will "enrich our lives." (Catherine Rolfsen)

When Sandy Lu sees images of Syrian refugee children trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety, she feels more than sympathy. 

She's been there.

At age 10, she was one hundreds of thousands of so-called "boat people" who fled Vietnam in the late 1970s and early 80s. 

"It seems like a long time ago but it's still very close at heart," says Lu, who is ethnically Chinese but was born in Vietnam.

"When I see pictures like that, it really touches my heart." 

Lu's experiences as a refugee and the welcome she received in Canada motivated her to join a group of Chinese-Canadians in Metro Vancouver sponsoring a Syrian refugee family.

Sandy Lu says she wants to help because she arrived in Canada as a refugee herself at the age of 10, after her family fled Vietnam. (Catherine Rolfsen)

The group of 10 people includes refugees and immigrants from Hong Kong who share a desire to help newcomers adjust to life in B.C. 

"I as a refugee myself felt that Canada has given me a lot of opportunity," says Lu, who now works as a financial advisor.

"I want to give back to the community and to society." 

She'll get a chance soon.

Their Syrian family of six, with four children between the ages of three and 11, is expected in about a month. 

'Hesitation' and 'fear' amongst Chinese community

Several group members said that they've heard negative reactions to their project from friends, family and clients. 

Group member Thomas Tam, the former CEO of Success, says there's a lack of knowledge about Syrians amongst some members of the Chinese-Canadian community. 

Thomas Tam, the former CEO of Success, says his background as an immigrant from Hong Kong helps him understand the challenges faced by newcomers to Canada. (Catherine Rolfsen)

"They know they're from Middle East, the base of a lot of terrorist organizations, and they also have the understanding that people are Muslim which for them is a very strange religion," he said.

"So there's a lot of hesitation, a lot of fear." 

Tam hopes the success of this project will help dispel some of those fears, and inspire other Chinese-Canadians to sponsor Syrians. 

He says some community members have already stepped up to help the group. 

They've found a dentist willing to provide free dental care for the family, and a landlord offering up a 3-bedroom basement suite in Burnaby at an affordable rate. 

Motivated by faith

Many group members know each other through their church or religious organizations. 

And for some, their faith is a major motivation for reaching out. 

"We have so many differences in culture, and even different faiths, and yet I believe Syrian people [are] also my brother and sister," says group member Stanley Ng, who's an ordained minister.

It doesn't matter what colour, what race you are ... you can extend that little bit of love when it's needed the most- Sandy Lu, refugee and member of sponsorship group

Ng says the group doesn't know the religion of the family they are sponsoring. 

"It doesn't matter. They are Syrian, they are people." 

The group of 10 has pooled about $20,000 of their own funds to support the Syrian family. As private sponsors, they're also responsible for helping the family settle. 

Lu says she's eager to introduce the family to the country that welcomed her as a girl. 

"I think that's what humanity is all about," she says. 

"It doesn't matter what colour, what race you are ... you can extend that little bit of love when it's needed the most." 

About the Author

Catherine Rolfsen

'Finding Refuge' story producer

Catherine Rolfsen is a story producer with The Early Edition at CBC Radio Vancouver, currently following stories of Syrian refugees in B.C. Catherine's work has been recognized with regional and national awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Reach her at or @crolfsen