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Ottawa parish still bringing in Syrian refugees

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


Husam Al Dakhil and his cousin Bahaa Hraiz serve a Syrian buffet. The cousins came to Canada a little more than a year ago. Now Holy Redeemer Parish in Ottawa has found sponsors for their parents and siblings. (CCN photo/D. Gyapong)

OTTAWA (CCN) — Holy Redeemer, a parish in the Ottawa archdiocese, didn’t stop at bringing in only one Syrian refugee family — so far they’ve brought in three and plan to bring in three more.

In addition to the three original families — all blood relations — the parish has been instrumental in bringing in two young nephews of the families, who now have sponsors for their parents and siblings.

The suburban parish refugee committee and its Knights of Columbus council have enlisted other area churches, including an Anglican church, to sponsor additional family members, though Holy Redeemer has helped with the paperwork, with topping up funding and with other assistance.

As well, the parish has received significant monetary help from fellow Knights in the United States — in particular two parish councils in Georgia.

On June 3, the Syrian refugees prepared a banquet of Syrian food as a thank you and a fundraiser to bring in three more members of the extended family. A film crew from Chicago was on hand preparing a video for the Knights 135th Supreme Convention in St. Louis, Missouri Aug. 1-3.

Bob Near, who represents the Knights Council 9544 on the parish’s refugee committee, told the gathering it costs $12,600 to sponsor one person. “We have 15 people now,” Near said. “We want to bring in three more to close the loop.”

The first family arrived in March 2015. Kholoud Wakass, her husband Shadi Al Dakhil and their two children (Kholoud was pregnant with their third when she arrived) came well before the Liberals made a campaign promise later that year to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Her sister Wedian, who was married to Shadi’s brother, arrived a year later with her husband, Wael, and two young daughters. A third sister, Claude, whose husband had died of cancer in Syria, also came last year with her two sons, aged 15 and 12.

“What we are trying to do is bring over the fourth sister, who is still in Damascus,” Near said. “She is a deaf mute. She can’t hear the incoming shells, and if she got buried in the rubble she couldn’t cry for help.”

The Syrian banquet also raised funds to bring in Kholoud’s mother and brother as well.

Rev. Pierre Champoux, the previous rector of Holy Redeemer, said the parish decided to act after seeing news about Syria and the ISIS persecution of Christians.

“The biggest surprise was the speed at which everything came together,” Champoux said. “We’ve all been part of meetings where we talk about things and nothing gets done.”

In contrast, the first meeting of the refugee committee, saw “within five minutes,” people volunteering to run the clothing drive, arrange food, find escorts to appointments and offer them accommodation, he said.

He recalled the arrival in March 2015 of the Al Dakhil family in the wee hours of the morning at Ottawa airport. “When you see something from beginning to end, and see your refugee families come, then seeing them start to flourish and make friendships in the parish, to me that is one of the most beautiful and rewarding things,” Champoux said. “Of course, without God’s help, nothing would be possible,” he said. “We’re doing this as a faith community, Christians helping Christians.

Husam Al Dakhil, 24, arrived about 15 months ago with his cousin Bahaa Hraiz. Holy Redeemer has found sponsors for both young men’s parents and siblings.

Husam’s family has been sponsored by St. Mary’s Church in Carleton Place. “It took us some time to prepare the application for them,” he said. “Their papers were submitted to the Ministry of Immigration on the 31st of December.”

After five months, their “application is now being processed,” he said. “They just got their medicals.”

They have yet to be interviewed by the Canadian embassy in Lebanon.

Husam has been working in credit card sales at PC Financial. He has completed an English course and plans to continue his studies in banking and finance at Algonquin College in January. Bahaa is still taking an English course and working.

Mary-Lou Hakansson, co-chair of the parish’s refugee committee, said they were anxious to get Husam’s family to Canada as soon as possible because his brother is 17. If he were in Syria, he will be enlisted in the Syrian army, she said. “We felt it was really important to get that young man out.”

Husam joked that half of the time he’s been in Canada “it has been really cold!”

“Other than that it’s really nice,” he said. “You can plan for a safe life. You can put goals and work towards achieving them, which is great. Personal safety is threatened over there.”

“We now have every member of Kholoud’s family sponsored,” said Cathy Deogrades, co-chair of the refugee committee. “We’re just doing the paperwork now. It’ll probably be at least a year until they come.”

Once the next three families arrive, “then we’re done!” said Deogrades. “We can retire. As far as we know, these are the last of the relatives who need or want to come to Canada at this point.”

Deogrades stressed the collaboration with the Knights of Columbus in the United States as well as the help of other area churches who have agreed to sponsor some of the refugees and raise funds.

As far as we know these are the last of the relatives who need or want to come to Canada at this point, so I think we’re done

“It’s wonderful to see churches stepping up and wanting to do this,” Hakansson said. “This is past the bringing the 25,000 over. It’s not in the news anymore. To add to that the fact the Knights from the States are sending money up to us, it’s just amazing.”

The government has cut back the number of private sponsorships. Deogrades said Canada is only accepting 7,000 privately sponsored refugees from Syria and Iraq this year.

“So we were able to get them into the very limited numbers that they have for this year,” she said, noting Kholoud’s remaining family members are coming under a family reunification program “so it doesn’t fall under those numbers.”

“We had to think outside the box,” Deogrades said.

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