Mississauga gears up to welcome Syrian refugees
Community leaders, social services groups meet to devise plans to resettle refugees
Dima Alkabani feels the support that Syrian refugees who settle in Mississauga receive will help restore their faith in humanity.
"I believe a lot of Syrians lost faith in humanity, and I see there are still people, and Canada of course, who are willing to help," she told CBC News.
Alkabani, who came here from Syria with her family six years ago, is the programs manager at Polycultural Immigrant & Community Services. It's one of several organizations ready to lend a helping hand to the newcomers.
On Tuesday, over 200 community leaders and frontline workers from the health, education and mental health sectors converged on Burnhamthorpe Community Centre in Mississauga to discuss how the region would support the refugees.
Alkabani said she was "very impressed and touched by the amount of support and passion everybody's showing to help the refugees who are coming here. And I was very happy that not everybody's addressing them as refugees but as newcomers, new residents, new citizens. Everybody wants to embrace them and it gives you a great feeling."
Alkbani acknowledged the newcomers would face several challenges in their new home but said one of her main concerns is the myth surrounding them.
"I know a lot of people have a lot of fears," she said. "One of the reasons they fled their homes is because they did not accept what ISIS was imposing on them. My message is not to be afraid. Syrians are not lazy, they want to contribute to the community."
Shelley White, CEO of the United Way of Peel Region, echoed Alkabani's concern.
'Looking for a safe place'
"I want people to know that the refugees who are coming to our community are people like you and I, they are families who have faced terrible atrocities and they've been displaced from their homes," she said. "They're looking for a safe place to raise their children, so I don't think people need to be afraid."
Finding affordable housing for refugees, White said, is one of the area's biggest challenges.
"How do we come up with creative solutions to provide more housing? How we can provide rent subsidies? How we can work with landlords? Maybe we can look at basement apartments again," she said. "We're going to work on it locally but we need to work with the provincial and federal government to help us as well."
Like Alkabani, Rabia Khedr, the executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel, was overwhelmed by the show of support for the refugees at Tuesday's meeting but said she's "concerned that society is being polarized through some of the sensational headlines."
Khedr said she hopes people in the GTA uphold Canada's storied humanitarian tradition.
"I really want Canadians to remember who we really are," she said. "We are a nation of immigrants. Remember the essence of what makes us uniquely Canadian and hold on very tightly to that."