Syrian family is enjoying the good life in Surrey while tens of thousands of Canadians struggle

The headline in The Vancouver Sun said it all: “Syrian family living a good life in Surrey.”

While 35,000 Canadians are homeless every single night in this country and thousands more are struggling just to make ends meet, a Syrian refugee family has settled into their Surrey, B.C. home with a wealth of support from the federal and provincial governments.

“After fleeing Syria, the family spent three years in Jordan, including eight months in a refugee camp before arriving in Canada in January, 2016 as one of nearly 500 government-assisted Syrian refugees,” the story from Denise Ryan of The Vancouver Sun reads. “The family had one year of federal refugee support. In early 2017, they transitioned to B.C. Income Assistance, which Bassam (Sua’lfan) says is $1,200 a month.

“In addition, the family receives the federal Child Tax Benefit of about $3,500 a month.

“After covering housing at $2,500 a month, everything else covers necessities like transportation and food,” the story continues. “For clothing, the family relies on Value Village, and for food, they supplement with the food bank.

“Bassam has not been able to find work, in part because of the difficulties he has had accessing English classes. After being on a waiting list for over a year for English classes, Bassam was able to get into a night class, but it wasn’t helpful, he says.

“In addition, his wife Yousra, now eight months pregnant with their eighth child, has diabetes and her blood sugar is too unstable for her to leave the house, even for English classes. Bassam has to be available to help her with the children,” the story said.

Are you adding up the bills yet? Eight children, a father, a mother and of course, a Child Tax Credit, B.C. Income Assistance and help from the food bank.

Bassam says he is planning to go to work himself and help others.

“Like many Syrian refugees, Bassam has decided that he will find a way to take care of his family himself. He has been looking for a farm to lease. He wants to build greenhouses to produce vegetables, and raise goats and chickens that he can butcher for Halal meat. In Syria he was a farmer. It’s what he knows how to do,” The Vancouver Sun’s story reads.

“I want to help the food bank because they have helped me,” he says.

Maybe, he can help some of the 35,000 Canadians who don’t a home every single night, because their federal and provincial governments don’t seem to care about them. A story by The Canadian Press in 2016 published the numbers. It indicated 235,000 people are homeless in Canada annually and about 35,000 are without a home every single night. There are 50,000 more called hidden homeless – leaning on friends or family for a place to live.

Now, apparently, the government is prepared to spend more than the $105.3 million on a Homeless Partnering Strategy, which is designed to prevent and reduce homelessness. But what if the governments decided, instead, not to accept any refugees until they can take care of their own people? Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

The story in The Vancouver Sun talks about one of the Syrian refugee family’s female children, Fatima, discussing her future.

“Fatima excels in math and science and she wants to be in Advanced Placement classes to be more challenged, but because of the move she will have to change schools after March break. She doesn’t know yet what school she will be going to, or whether she will be able to get into the classes she wants.

“Whatever happens, Fatima is single-minded about the future,” the story goes on. “I just want to study. I want to be a surgeon.

“Not for money,” Bassam explains, with Fatima translating. “Money is not important. It is to study and to learn and to help people.”

Fatima nods. “Not for money,” she agrees before jumping up to take the broom from her mother’s hands and sweep the living room floor.

Of course, it’s not for the money. This family doesn’t have to worry about money. They aren’t among the tens of thousands of Canadians searching for a place to live, a place to eat, or a place to work. They’re living “the good life” as the headline says.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson is a retired Canadian journalist who covered a wide range of political stories over a 35-year career in newspapers and radio. He was at Place du Canada in Montreal in 1995 for the Unity rally on the eve of the Quebec referendum. He interviewed former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and numerous cabinet ministers, provincial premiers and many other key political figures both provincially and federally. Most recently he served in the Press Operations Crews at the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2017 Invictus Games.
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