Mary Cook

Committee looking for bus passes for Syrian refugees

As the Syrian Refugee Committee anxiously awaits the imminent arrival of Campbell River’s first Syrian refugees, the group is rushing to tie up loose ends.

While the group has secured rental properties for the families, transportation is still up in the air.

Mary Cook, on behalf of the Syrian Refugee Committee, is asking city council to consider providing free transportation for the refugees for one year.

“One of the basic requirements to ensure successful integration will be transportation,” Cook wrote. “I would respectfully request the city’s support in providing free passes to the city’s transit system for the initial year of integration.”

Cook said the committee is looking for 11 adult passes and four student passes.

Council, at its April 25 meeting, agreed to consider the request.

Coun. Larry Samson put forward a motion – that was approved by council – to have city staff report back to council on the implications and the costs of providing the passes.

Coun. Ron Kerr suggested staff also outline for council what the city’s policies are in relation to waiving transit fees.

Campbell River’s Syrian refugees have been in a state of limbo for some time.

Merell Awad, co-owner of BaBa Gannouj restaurant, along with the help of a 25-person committee of caring community members, has been desperately trying to get her family out of war-torn Syria.

Awad’s sister, her husband and their two teenaged sons, who are 13 and 16, as well as Awad’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.

Rounding out the group awaiting a flight to Canada are 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 Awad and her husband Fouad. 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,” Awad 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 community has been so generous, attending ongoing fundraisers to help raise enough money to sponsor Awad’s family.

“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. Now all they can do is wait.