Nova Scotia

Syrian refugees flock to Halifax food bank to make ends meet

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.

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

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)

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, 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.

The federal government originally committed to resettling 25,000 government-assisted refugees by Dec. 31 but lowered the target to 10,000 in November, announcing they would be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees.

They have since promised to resettle another 15,000 Syrians refugees who are "mostly government-assisted" by March 1.

Donations disbursed

In the weeks leading up to the arrival of the refugees, Nova Scotians donated thousands of items to help them out.

An empty Rona store in Bayers Lake was stuffed to the brim with clothing and household goods. But the donation centre didn't receive much furniture to help set up refugees' apartments and the warehouse wasn't able to accept food donations.

Many of the families have used the donation centre to pick up children's toys and clothing. But there are still many items they need to set up their lives in Canada, says Mills.

"So when we're talking food banks, people are going there," she said.

With files from Steve Berry, Sabrina Fabian and Jonathan Villeneuve


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