Syrian Active Volunteers launches hotline to help refugees in GTA

Think of them as an Uber for Syrian refugees, organizers say.

Organization fields around 100 calls for assistance per day from refugees

Sam Jisri, bottom left, co-founded the Syrian Active Volunteers group, which runs a hotline dedicated to helping Syrian refugees arriving in the GTA. (Facebook)

Think of them as an Uber for Syrian refugees.

Syrian Active Volunteers, a group co-founded by Sam Jisri, now has around 500 volunteers, all of whom speak Arabic. And they're all ready and eager to help newly-arrived Syrians with anything from translation to transportation.

"They're just waiting for an opportunity to help, to be involved," Jisri told CBC Radio's Metro Morning. 

Jisri is Syrian himself and came to Toronto some 25 years ago.

His initial idea for the group was to register a 1-800 line that Syrian refugees could call whenever they needed help. Instead, it's become an active Facebook group, where Jisri can seek urgent help and whoever is available at that moment springs into action. Soon, the group will get its own app.

Since we have their tongue, their language, it was way easier. They were very comfortable and smiles started to come back.- Sam Jisri, Syrian Active Volunteers

Thousands of Syrian refugees are expected to settle in the GTA. Government and immigration workers are helping with the process, but much of the work is being done by volunteers.

Currently, Jisri said, the group fields around 100 calls every day.

Jisri said two weeks ago he was called to the Mississauga hotel housing the newly-arrived government-assisted refugees, including some 200 who had just arrived late at night. (The hotel isn't named because organizers don't want people overwhelming staff there with donations.)

Jisri said he arrived to find "a little bit of hysteria" as refugees lined the hallways, but soon he and several other translators helped calm everything down.

"This was a new world for them. They didn't know what was happening and we had to calm them down, talk to them," he said.

"Since we have their tongue, their language, it was way easier. They were very comfortable and smiles started to come back."

Once the Syrian refugees find housing — a process Jisri's group is also trying to help with — his volunteers will be on standby to help people get adjusted to daily life in the GTA.  They've also started collecting donations like non-perishable food, strollers and kitchenware at a Mississauga community centre.

So far, Jisri said, thousands of people from all walks of life have expressed an interest to help.

Anyone who wants to help the group or get more information can find it on Facebook.