Shawkat Hasan’s journey to Canada began as a young boy in a refugee camp in the West Bank in the 1950s, when he found a little surprise in the pocket of a donated article of clothing.
“I got a piece of paper in one of the clothes they distribute, of someone saying, ‘If you receive this paper, write me back,'” said Hasan, now the Vice-President of Social Services with the BC Muslim Association.
“So I did and that person came from Abbotsford, from the Mennonite church. I wrote back, and a few months later he came to visit me in the Middle East, in the refugee camp.”
Hasan says that person supported him personally and financially, throughout his first few years in North America.
Now, Hasan is inviting members of the B.C.’s Muslim community to come together to sponsor at least 15 refugee families from Syria.
“We have asked every centre for our organization to sponsor a family,” said Hasan, who is coordinating centres in places like Abbotsford, Prince George, Victoria, and Vancouver.
“That support lasts one year, for the first year we are responsible for every effort.”
The association applied to become a Sponsorship Agreement Holder two months ago, according to Hasan.
They are currently trying to sponsor as many families as they can finance, which Hasan says costs around $450,000 for a family of four.
Some of the things for which each centre is responsible include picking up families from the airport, furnishing a rented apartment, stocking fridges with food, and registering with government services.
“If the family is Muslim… they need halal food, they need to know where to buy it,” said Hasan.
“If there is an issue, trauma, with the kids or family… we try to accommodate them and have somebody speak the same language.”
Hasan says the association has raised close to $1 million that will go towards the process of sponsoring families overseas, and eventually settling them in various places across B.C.
It’s estimated 2,700 Syrian refugees will arrive in the province by the end of the year, with some arriving in the next couple of weeks.
Click here to learn more about The British Columbia Muslim Association in Canada.