News / Vancouver

Syrian refugee praises Canadian services at new Vancouver welcome centre

Samer Aldhmad and his family came to Vancouver last December. He says he's grateful for the services his family has received since then.

Samer Aldhmad and his wife Hanan Alawwad with their children (clockwise from top right) Omar, 1, Nour, 4, Auyman, 8, and Nawwar, 3, on the construction site of Vancouver's new refugee welcome centre on Sept. 10, 2015.

Emily Jackson/Metro

Samer Aldhmad and his wife Hanan Alawwad with their children (clockwise from top right) Omar, 1, Nour, 4, Auyman, 8, and Nawwar, 3, on the construction site of Vancouver's new refugee welcome centre on Sept. 10, 2015.

Syrian refugee Samer Aldhmad says his family is lucky to be in Canada and wishes every family had the chance to come here to live a normal life.

Not that Aldhmad’s life has been easy since he, his wife and five children arrived in Vancouver on Dec. 17, 2014. Their seven-year-old son Auyman has Hodgkin’s lymphoma; Aldhmad doesn’t speak English and needs language classes to land a job; and they had to repay a $7,019.47 loan to the Canadian government for their one-way flights to YVR.

Aldhmad told his story of his family’s journey from Daraa, one of the cities where the civil war began with protests in 2011, at a news conference to showcase the construction progress of the Immigrant Service Society of B.C.’s new Welcome House for refugees in East Vancouver.

ISS of B.C. CEO Patricia Woroch said the new centre, which will house 130 refugees for the first few weeks they arrive, will encompass all the services newcomers need including daycare, a medical centre, help setting up bank accounts and adult education.

With his smiling children playing amongst the crowd of media, agency workers and refugees from countries including Liberia, Uganda, Burundi and Somalia, Aldhmad praised the services offered. It was his dream to come here, he said, and he was happy to pay back his loan to the government.

“I can say I’m satisfied about that because the government helped us in too many ways as well,” he said through interpreter Zeena Al-Hamadani.

His family was accepted to the country on humanitarian reasons with help from the UN Refugee Agency. Auyman spent the first four months in hospital, but now he’s well enough to attend school. His sisters Nour, 4, and Nawwar, 3, attend daycare.

“I was one of the lucky people that I could come within a short time because of my kid’s special situation, otherwise people are waiting and waiting a long time to finish this long journey,” he said.

Events such as this are keeping the refugee crisis in the headlines after a photo of a lifeless Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish beach caught global attention last week.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson repeated his call for the federal government to increase the number of refugees it accepts to 20,000 by 2020. Big city mayors around the country, frustrated with the federal government’s “lack of action,” are meeting Friday to discuss next steps, he said.

Robertson said he was proud the city gave $4.4 million to the new $24.5-million centre, which is expected to open in May 2016.

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