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Hundreds attend Vancouver forum on how to help Syrian refugees

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Mosaic and Immigrant Services Society of B.C. brief residents on crisis during town hall.

Eyob Naizghi of MOSAIC, left, speaks to a full house at Vancouver city hall on Tuesday night with Mayor Gregor Robertson (centre) and Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.


Eyob Naizghi of MOSAIC, left, speaks to a full house at Vancouver city hall on Tuesday night with Mayor Gregor Robertson (centre) and Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Vancouverites, many who felt helpless when they saw the photograph of a lifeless Syrian toddler last week, flocked to city hall on Tuesday night for a forum on how they can help prevent others from the same fate as three-year-old Alan Kurdi.

More than 300 people packed two rooms at city hall for the standing room only event, hastily organized over the weekend after city hall was flooded with calls asking how they can help with the Syrian refugee crisis.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, who acknowledged the city takes a supporting role to help refugees, got loud applause for calling on the federal government to increase the number of refugees it accepts to 20,000 a year by 2020.

“Judging from all of you here tonight, I think it’s an important step,” he said, adding the city will look at increasing support to refugee services.

Immigrant Services Society of B.C. director Chris Friesen and MOSAIC director Eyob Naizghi outlined the refugee crisis, noting that it’s worldwide and not just in Syria.

The photograph of the little boy has resulted in an outpouring of compassion and humanity from citizens and some political leaders, which is encouraging, said Naizghi, who was a refugee in his 20s.

“The photo, maybe in a strange sort of way, and this groundswell of support provides homage to this little boy and inspires all of us to do more for refugees so maybe his death wasn’t in vain,” Friesen said.


Top three ways to help

Friesen listed the top three ways people can help. First, he suggests donating to organizations already on the front lines such as the UN Refugee Agency. Second, he recommended donating to local, experienced organizations and existing sponsorship agreement holders to offer help with fundraising and volunteering. (See the list of his suggested organizations below.)

While he said there has been immense interest in sponsoring refugees, he cautioned people about the complexities of filing an application without being fully prepared for the challenges.

“My fear, and not wanting to put a wet blanket on the enthusiasm of British Columbians, is that refugee sponsorship is both complex and time consuming,” Friesen told Metro.

It costs between $25,000 and $35,000 to sponsor a family of four or five, he said, not including hidden health care costs and plane tickets. It can take up to two years to bring a family to Canada.

-With files from Thandi Fletcher

International organizations where you can donate

·      United Nations Refugee Agency – www.unhcr.og

·      International Organization for Migration –

·      Amnesty International –

·      Canadian Red Cross –

·      Doctors Without Borders –

·      Migrant Offshore Aid –

·      Oxfam –

·      UNICEF Canada –

·      World Food Programme –

·      World Vision Canada –

Local organizations where you can donate and/or volunteer

·      Immigrant Services Society of B.C. –

·      Inland Refugee Society –

·      Kinbrace Refugee Support and Housing –

·      MOSAIC –

·      Mt. Pleasant Family Centre –

·      Pacific Immigrant Resources Society –

·      Rainbow Refugee Canada –

·      Settlement Orientation Services –

·      Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture –

Experienced refugee sponsorship agreement holders

·      Anglican Synod of The Diocese of New Westminster –

·      Canadian Lutheran World Relief –

·      Canadian Unitarian Council –

·      Mennonite Central Committee –

·      Presbyterian Church of Canada –

·      Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver –

·      United Church of Canada –

·      World Renew –

·      World University Services of Canada –

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