“I would rather go back to the refugee camp than live here.”
A Syrian refugee sister said to me as we discussed her application for zakat assistance.
I had always thought refugees who come here live a much better and happier life than those back in Syria or the refugee camps surrounding Syria. But as I worked with this woman and with the many refugee cases that have been flooding in, I realized what she meant.
Did you know that when refugees come to Canada, they are given a loan to cover the medical examination costs, transportation cost to Canada, travel documents, and service fees. This loan can be anything from $1,200 to over $5,000. This loan also starts accruing interest after 1-3 years and must be paid back between 1-5 years, both depending on the amount of the loan.
Now imagine you’re in a refugee camp and they sell you dreams of moving to the “West”, to Canada, the land of freedom and opportunities – all you have to do is sign the dotted line. You look at the many pages of English gibberish contract-lingo and all you know how to say in English is “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Goodbye”. You express some concern over taking such a big loan only to be reassured you’ll have plenty of time to pay it back and you’ll find a job in no time! PLUS you’ll be getting refugee assistance. What could possibly go wrong?
So you sign the dotted line.
You come to Canada, you’re given an apartment (no, you are not allowed to choose the apartment or where it is located), you’re given monthly refugee assistance that often does not even cover the bare necessities. So what happens to food, transportation, medical costs and personal costs? You get a credit card to start covering these expenses and you join the waitlist for local food banks to get at least something once a month. You’re also given some money to start off your life: $500 is ok to restart your whole life, furnish your new place and settle down, right?
You can’t find a job because you don’t speak English. So you join the waitlist for English classes. Throughout this time you and your family are juggling PTSD, as well as any other health obstacles, culture-shock, adjusting to a new country, not knowing anyone, and trying to understand the new laws of the land.
Then you have the privilege of meeting and interacting with a plethora of people who take advantage of your situation, from the people that offer to help you get food from a food bank who end up harassing and assaulting you, or the new landlord who tricks you into getting insurance or cable for over $500, or your new “friends” who sell you their furniture for twice the cost. And lets not forget the phone companies that sell you their most expensive phone plan with a side of a 3 year contract.
Now I’m not saying lets not bring refugees here. I would like to think being in Canada is at least a bit better than being in a war-torn country. However, the fact remains that they are brought to Canada and barely survive. They can’t prosper or grow or even settle because they’re too busy trying to put food on the table.
Finally, just to give you a glance of the refugee applicants we’ve received:
- A widowed mother of 6 who was forced to leave 3 of her kids in a refugee camp in Lebanon & has been trying to bring them to Canada for the past 2 years.
- A single woman who only has $100 remaining after her rent and whose medical expenses alone are over $200. Obviously her health has deteriorated because she can’t buy the medication and it just becomes a downward spiral.
- A family of 6 who witnessed their father killed in front of them.
- A young woman who is trying to find a way back to a Lebanese refugee camp to see her sick and dying mother before she passes away.
Just imagine trying to restart your life after everything you’ve seen, but facing all these obstacles just when you thought there was finally a glimpse of hope.
How would you feel?