City to provide bus passes for Syrian refugees coming to Campbell River

The city will provide free transportation for up to one year for the first wave of Syrian refugees coming to Campbell River.

Council, at its Monday meeting, approved 11 adult passes and four student passes for the family of Merell and Fouad Awad, who own Campbell River’s BaBa Gannouj restaurant.

Mary Cook, on behalf of the Campbell River Syrian Refugee Committee, had asked council to consider providing free transportation for the refugees to help with basic settlement costs.

On Monday, city staff recommended council go ahead with granting Cook’s request.

Drew Hadfield, the city’s transportation manager, said there would be no net loss of revenue to the transit system to provide the passes as they will benefit new residents not currently using transit.

“As this request would be for new residents to our community, there would be no loss of revenue from the existing system to provide transit passes for the year for the 11 adults and four students,” Hadfield said. “The city has provided free transit services in the past to a number of groups (i.e. exchange students, fundraising benefits) or activities (i.e. Canada day and election day) to benefit the community.”

Hadfield said as there is no council policy on this issue, it has been in the past up to the discretion of council to provide such opportunities.

Coun. Ron Kerr said he would “certainly support the recommendation that we do support this initiative.”

As did the rest of council.

The move means foregone revenue of $8,304 if the refugees, upon their arrival, were to use the transit system.

Campbell River’s refugees could arrive at anytime. They’ve been in a state of limbo for some time.

The Awads, along with the help of a 25-person committee of caring community members, have been desperately trying to get their family out of war-torn Syria.

Merell’s sister, her husband and their two teenaged sons, who are 13 and 16, as well as Merell’s mother, who has one leg and heart problems, have left Syria and arrived in Lebanon on Nov. 1 but are still awaiting word of when they can fly into Canada.

Also awaiting a flight to Canada are relatives of Fouad – the parents of Sam Almouallem, a young man who escaped Syria by fleeing to the United States and then crossing over the Canadian border on foot. Almouallem has since obtained refugee status and is living with the Awads.

The seven refugees have completed medical tests and a lengthy interview process, conducted through the Canadian embassy set up in Lebanon, and been given the go-ahead to enter Canada but they are still in limbo.

“It might happen anytime now,” Merell said in February. “We might get a call in seven days, we might get a call in two weeks. No one knows. It might happen at anytime.”

When it does happen, the family is expected to fly to Toronto and from there, board a flight to Vancouver.

Cook said the Campbell River Baptist Church has recently initiated its own sponsorship initiative to support an additional four Syrian refugees – a family of three and one individual – and the church is keen to coordinate its efforts with those of the Syrian Refugee Committee.

Cook said the Campbell River community has been extremely generous in its support, attending ongoing fundraisers to help the committee raise money.

“The outpouring of support from this community has been incredible and is integral to the successful integration of these families within our community,” Cook said.