British Columbia

Syrian family living in frigid home with no kitchen ceiling

Issa Alhamdah, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria earlier this year, says he hasn’t been warm in his home in Langley for two months.
Issa Alhamdah (centre) has been living in a frigid home with no kitchen ceiling with his family for two months. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Issa Alhamdah, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria earlier this year with his family, says he hasn't been warm in his home in Langley for two months.

Damage from a small fire above his stove caused renovation crews to take away his appliances and sink, strip the drywall from the walls, rip up the laminate floors and remove the kitchen ceiling.

Heat has been escaping through the bare walls of Alhamdah's kitchen for two months, leaving the home nearly as cold as the freezing temperature outside. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Nothing has been replaced.

Alhamdah's wife Rozia makes tea and does the dishes in the bathroom.

Alhamdah can stand in his kitchen and stare directly into his attic.

"All of my children are sick because of the cold," he said.

"The last week has been so cold."

Two of his children are seated on the couch beneath a blanket in their winter coats while they watch cartoons in Arabic.

It's -9 C degrees outside and it doesn't feel much warmer in Alhamdah's living room.

His three-month-old daughter is bundled up on Rozia's lap and his two oldest sons are at school.

"It's cold in the winter in Syria and we are prepared but here, not prepared," he said.

"It's very, very cold."

The Alhamdah's either cook at friend's homes or prepare their meals in this microwave on their living room floor. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

Nowhere to go

Alhamdah moved his family into a hotel for 11 days after the fire but when money got tight, they moved back into their townhouse.

He has had a hard time communicating with his insurance company because he doesn't understand much English.

Immigration Settlement Services Director Chris Friesen said his organization is trying to help the family.

He said, however, ISS needs permission from the federal government to help government assisted refugees in permanent homes find new places to live if they're displaced by fire or flood.

The only working sink is in the bathroom, so this is where the Alhamdahs store their dishes and make tea. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

"We received approval from [Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada] this past Tuesday to deploy some housing search resources to this family to help find alternative permanent housing," Friesen said.

"That being said, we are in the middle of an end-of-year arrival surge with close to 300 government assisted refugees."

Alhamdah said he's tired of waiting but he can't afford to move.

He says all he can do for now is wrap his children in blankets and hope for the best.