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Eritrean refugee arrives in the Comox Valley

Comox Valley Friends of Refugees sponsors fifth applicant
Mahasen Salim, Mubarak Salim, Adem Salim Idris, and Munir Mahmoud met Farej Saleh (middle) at the Nanaimo Airport on Feb. 21.

Two and a half years after helping four Eritrean refugees settle in to the community, Comox Valley Friends of Refugees Society (CVFRS) has helped another refugee find a permanent home on Vancouver Island.

Farej Saleh fled Eritrea in 2007 for Sudan, and has been living in and out of refugee camps for the past 15 years.

He landed in Nanaimo on Feb. 21, and has been quarantining in the Comox Valley since.

“He was very happy (to finally arrive),” said Adem Idris, one of the founders of CVFRS. “His 14-day quarantine ended (March 7) so I plan on showing him around the town, the city, because he hasn’t seen it; take him to Goose Spit to see the ocean, and the beach. Then we will help him out with all the paperwork.”

The process to get Saleh to the Comox Valley has been a drawn-out one.

“We started with his process back in 2019,” said Idris. “Now we have sponsored five refugees.”

In 2019, the CVFRS brought a total of four Eritream refugees to the Comox Valley. In September of that year, Idris’s brother Mahdi and sister Mahasen arrived, and found employment immediately.

Munir Mahmoud and Yassin Ibrahim arrived in December of 2019 and have since both enrolled in school, are both working full-time, and are supporting themselves.

The language barrier will be a challenge, but with other Eritreans already espablished in the Comox Valley, Idris is confident Saleh will manage.

“Farej has limited English, so if there are members of the community who are willing to help him with that, as far as English goes… to just hang out with him, and talk to him in English. That would be helpful.”

Saleh will be registering for English classes at the Immigrant Welcome Centre. Anyone interested in helping out can email Idris at

Costs of process

The sponsor group, or family - in this case, the CVFRS - is responsible for supplying all living-related costs for the refugee for the first year, or until the newcomer gains independence, whichever comes first.

“Rent, food, transportation, furniture or any clothing that is needed, the group pays for that for the first year,” said Idris. “But so far, Munir and Yassin, as well as Mahdi and Mahasen before them, used hardly any of our resources as a group, which put us in a position to submit for more refugees to come.”

The Canadian government lends the refugee the money to cover all associated travel costs to get to the final Canadian destination, at which time the newcomer has one year to stabilize, before beginning repayment on that loan.

Saleh already has a job lined up.

More sponsorships lined up

The CVFRS has already started the process for its next sponsorship.

“So far we have a couple with their daughter, and two single people,” said Idris.

The CVFRS works under the umbrella of the East Kootenay Friends of Refugees Society, which sponsored Idris for his arrival in Canada in 2011.

Anyone who wants to make a monetary donation to the Comox Valley chapter can get more information at

“People can e-transfer money to the group for a tax-deductable donation,” said Idris.

Streamlined process for Ukrainians encouraging

Idris is encouraged by the announcement from the Government of Canada, regarding the streamlining of the immigration process for people wanting to flee Ukraine.

The pending creation of the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel, available for individuals fleeing Ukraine, eliminates many of the normal visa requirements. Idris is hopeful that such a streamlined process could eventually be applied for all refugees, regardless of which country they are fleeing.

At a rally for Ukraine in Comox on Saturday (March 5) North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney expressed the need to abolish all visa requirements for any Ukrainians seeking asylum in Canada.

“I do understand why, and I think it is great that the Canadian government is fast-tracking refugees from Ukraine - I think that is great and it should happen, as fast as possible,” said Idris. “But yes, I really hope that the same standard will eventually apply to all refugees. I think they (government) are proving that it is possible. They are showing that they have the capability. They should have the will as well.”

The Record has reached out to Blaney for comment.

VIDEO: Comox Valley welcomes Eritrean refugees