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by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver 

As refugees begin trickling into Canada in 2016, local police departments are warning newcomers and their sponsors to beware of con artists posing as immigration officials who might attempt to cheat them out of their money. 

“Since 2014, we’ve had 14,500 reports of scams,” explains Sergeant Penny Hermann, media relations officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Ontario, speaking to statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). 

Out of that 14,500, just over half were reported between August 2015 and January 2016. 

“From August of last year up to the date that I just got updated on Tuesday — 14,500 — it’s been almost overly doubled now,” Hermann states. 

Even more troubling for Hemann is that only five per cent of mass marketing frauds are reported, according to the historical analyses done by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. 

“So if you think about it, 14,500 and that represents five per cent, how many more [are] out there?” she posits. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“What they want is for you to be rattled, frightened, and acting out of fear.”[/quote]

In these sorts of scams, fraudsters pretending to be IRCC and CRA officials call newcomer Canadians with threats about incorrect paperwork, additional fees and potential deportation. 

Scammers demand anywhere between $1,300 and $7,000, which victims are told to either transfer through their bank or send using gift cards. 

“When they sense that you are believing them, they go full speed ahead,” Daniel Williams, a fraud specialist at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, explains. “They become very abrasive, very aggressive.” 

“What they want is for you to be rattled, frightened, and acting out of fear,” he says. 

Targeting vulnerable populations 

While these sorts of scams have targeted Canadians from a diversity of backgrounds, Williams tells New Canadian Media that revenue scams most often victimize people with South Asian – particularly Indian – sounding names. 

“These are folks that the bad guys are finding through what appears to be the phone book online,” he explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It will be the scammers' natural inclination to scam people who speak their language.”[/quote]

Research by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shows that many of these calls appear to come from “crooked call centres” in India, indicating why this community is commonly targeted. “It will be the scammers' natural inclination to scam people who speak their language,” says Williams.

Beyond that, these newcomers are sometimes targeted because they may not be as familiar with Canadian law. 

“[The scammers] hope that they’re reaching people who would be less aware of the laws and more susceptible to someone intimidating them, pretending to be a government agency,” Williams explains. 

When asked why these populations may be more at-risk than others, Williams acknowledged that there could be a cultural component at play. 

According to Williams, people from India are generally “respectful of authority” and may be hesitant to challenge a suspicious caller claiming to be from the government. 

“That’s what consumers have told me,” he explains. “It kind of makes sense. You come from a culture where authority is respected to a degree, it’s easier to get folks to follow the instructions that we’ve made for them.” 

General population also at-risk

Nevertheless, Williams emphasizes that the general population is just as susceptible to being victimized by con artists as immigrants and refugees. 

He states, “Scammers are quite global in their scope and they don’t pick on any one location. Everybody is fair game. They’re all vulnerable.” 

While there are a few massive form frauds that do appear to be targeting newcomers, “scammers, depending on who they reach, will take money from anyone,” he adds. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[G]overnments will not go and knock on your door, they’re not going to threaten your arrest unless you pay this amount of money."[/quote]

Perpetrators may even be avoiding targeting the most vulnerable populations in Canada in favour of those who have more significant funds on hand to transfer, explains Williams. 

Hermann agrees: “I think it’s just that they’re targeting vulnerable people. People that they think will actually give them the money.” 

Raising awareness 

In Ottawa, members of the RCMP Greater Toronto Area Financial Crime Unit have launched a Fraud Awareness Campaign to warn the public of ongoing scams by imposters pretending to be CRA agents. 

Hermann explains that the intent of the campaign is to “make everybody aware that governments will not go and knock on your door, they’re not going to threaten your arrest unless you pay this amount of money, they will not be doing that.” 

In addition to educating incoming refugees, the campaign aims to educate refugee sponsors who might be asked for money to pay the scammers by those they’re housing. 

Anyone interested in hosting a presentation about fraud “to protect these refugees coming in so that they do not get victimized” is encouraged to contact the RCMP. 

When it comes to protecting yourself from being a victim of fraud, Williams’ advice is simple: “Verify, verify, verify. If people would just do that, we would defeat mass marketing fraud in a heartbeat.”

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Friday, 18 December 2015 01:19

Open Doors for Syrians, Closed for Others

Written by

by Judy Trinh in Ottawa, Ontario

It is with awe and a heavy heart that 21-year-old Aganze Bihamba watches the massive national effort to bring in Syrian refugees. Bihamba, a former refugee himself, fled Congo and lived on the streets of Kenya for 14 years.

Much of his life has been spent in tattered clothes, sleeping in the streets or mud huts trying to find shelter from the scorching sun and pelting rain. In September, 2014 he arrived in Ottawa after being sponsored through the World University Service Canada student refugee program. He’s amazed that the Canadian government is fast tracking the settlement of Syrians, but he can’t help but wish he could harness some of that goodwill for his own cause.

While doors open for Syrians, they close for others.

Processing times

“I have three sisters living in Nairobi on their own, and I can’t get them out.” His sisters are 19, 17, 16 years old.  Bihamba’s mother died of heart failure in February, while his dad abandoned them years ago. He needs at least $30,000 to sponsor his sisters to Canada, an impossible amount for a full-time student on OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program). Bihamba has reached out to churches and community groups for help, but has been told they are devoting efforts to settling Syrians or are unwilling to contend with the lengthy processing times involved in processing African refugees.

“You shouldn’t discriminate,” a demoralized Bihamba pleads. “If your life is in danger you need help. Don’t ignore the Congolese — they’re all running for their lives.”

Pleas such as Bihamba’s are being heard more frequently by the Canadian Council for Refugees.

“The attention to Syrian refugee families, make some fellow citizens feel they’re being neglected,” says Executive Director Janet Dench. She says the massive government effort settling Syrians is proof Canada can mobilize quickly to help refugees anywhere if there is political will. The federal government’s Syrian refugee plan will cost more than  $1 billion. 

In order to settle 25,000 Syrians in just a few short months, 500 visa officers have been mobilized. Some of them have been pulled out of retirement. Immigration officials say they have not diverted staff from other embassies to deal with the Syrians, but Dench says more resources need to be devoted to other visa offices, in particular those in Africa. Refugee applications there can take more than five years to process.

“That sends a message that people of African origins are less deserving than everyone else,” says Dench.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“That sends a message that people of African origins are less deserving than everyone else."[/quote]

Transportation costs

Another example is the federal government’s recent decision to waive transportation costs for Syrian refugees, but not other groups. Transporting refugees to Canada can cost as much as $10,000 a family, a big amount for newcomers to pay back. CCR is actively lobbying the federal government to waive travel loans for all refugees.

The federal government is also increasing the incentives for private groups to sponsor Syrian refugees. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has now opened its Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR) Program to 'Group of 5' sponsors. BVOR refugees are pre-screened and can arrive within a month of being selected by a group.

The refugees on the BVOR list are often considered more desperate cases. They’re victims of torture or have serious medical issues. To move these cases quickly, the government provides six months of income assistance for BVOR refugees, meaning interested private groups only have to raise half the recommended amount required for settlement. Prior to September, only Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) such as churches had access to the BVOR list.

Non-Syrian voices

Scott McLeod sits on the SAH Council. He says private groups who want to sponsor non-Syrian refugees on the BVOR list should get income support from the government.

“It’s fair criticism to ask why can’t we do it for anyone else.”  McLeod says in his presentations to private groups, he tries to emphasize that all refugees regardless of where they are from deserve consideration — “but money could be the difference.”

Mcleod says the chorus of non-Syrian voices asking for equal treatment is getting louder.

“These voices aren’t angry, but they’re pleading.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Let’s not be too narrow and expand beyond Syrians. Some groups have been waiting even longer and are even more desperate.”[/quote]

For Dench, Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee shows that our country has the financial resources and human expertise to act quickly in the face of a crisis. Dench says it’s obvious Canadians want to help, and now it’s time to expand our scope. It’s more than just Syrians who are fleeing violence and conflict.

“Let’s not be too narrow and expand beyond Syrians. Some groups have been waiting even longer and are even more desperate.”

There are are more than 13 million refugees worldwide, 25 per cent of that number are in Africa. Among them are Bihamba’s sisters. Three orphaned teenagers.

Every month he sends them $150 USD. The amount ensures they get at least one meal a day and pays the rent on their small apartment. From halfway around the world, Bihamba provides shelter, but not safety. For that he needs help, for doors to open.

“I have hope, but it’s fading.”

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by Diba Hareer in Ottawa

The efforts by the Canadian government to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016 is generous, but it does not address the factors that caused the massive diaspora in the first place. Only when the roots of this and similar situations such as the North African migrant crisis are addressed can these human tragedies end.

This was the theme of a panel discussion held by Kaleidoscope World, a Canadian charity organization, on November 23rd.

The panel members discussed the complicated situations and obstacles refugees from all countries face during migration to Europe. The photos of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum focused the world's attention on the plight of Syrian refugees, but there is also a significant number of individuals fleeing North Africa.

Not since the Second World War has there been such a huge number of people fleeing across borders in search of better economic opportunities and safety. For some the journey — which begins with hope — ends in death.

The dangerous crossing to Europe

Hilary Homes, the acting manager of Amnesty International Canada’s Campaign Team and a member of the panel, says that as of August, more than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

She recalls an incident in May 2015 when fishing boats carrying South Asian refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh were forced back into the sea by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities who refused to let them disembark. 

“The refugees were left without food, water and medical care for an entire week until the Philippines and later Indonesia offered to take them in,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]More than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.[/quote]

This is only one example of a time when doors were slammed shut for refugees. Even if they successfully make the difficult journey to safety, refugees also face the threat of deportation.

Women refugees in particular “consistently face threats of violence, sexual violence, harassment and exploitation,” according to Homes. 

She says the refugee camps are usually crowded, with insufficient washrooms, and common sleeping areas, which puts women in vulnerable positions. 

Tackling the root causes of the migrant crisis

Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries, according to Hilda Joyce Portilla, another speaker.

Portilla, who teaches courses on migration, minority and sociology of family and gender relations at the University of Ottawa, explains that the problem for refugees does not start during migration: “The story begins long before that”. 

Some of the factors that lead to mass migration include terrorism, poverty, state persecution and corruption. 

Abai Coker, CEO of Canadian Solidarity and originally from Gambia, roots the problem in the corrupt systems of troubled African nations.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries.[/quote] 

He explains that tourism has gone bankrupt and Gambia depends on foreign aid. There is a lack of job opportunities. Coker says the government simply doesn't care for its citizens and has robbed them of hope in the future.

In Africa, the collective lifestyle and the focus on taking care of extended family members forces young people to move in search for opportunities, says Coker. They seek better lives in Europe, but often only find misery. 

They can’t get jobs and as a result become homeless. Women are forced into prostitution, face constant violence and some lose their lives, he explains.

Europe has promised 1.8 billion euro to African countries in return for the deportation of “unwanted” refugees, but Coker thinks the aid will be in vain because of corruption. “Europe has to check if the infrastructure and policies are right for keeping those people [in African countries],” he states.

Confronting terrorism in the Middle East

Majed El-Shafie, the president of One Free World International, argues that terrorism is at the root of the migration problem in the Middle East. He says the solution must go beyond removing ISIS. “You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.” 

El-Shafie said that the only way to stop terrorism is to educate the younger generation who are potential recruits for ISIS and other extremist groups. If they’re not properly educated, they will be more susceptible to the ideology. 

He believes freedom of religion and separation of religion and state in the Middle East will bring the lengthy conflict to an end and pave the ground for democracy. 

El-Shafie is also critical of Arab countries who share a similar religion, culture and language with Syria, but who are not taking in the refugees. Although 125 countries have ratified the UN Convention on refugees, most of the Middle East is absent from the list.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.”[/quote]

“Why are the Arab Muslim countries not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Why is Saudi Arabia not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, United Arab Emirates in general, Algeria, Morocco, Tunis?”

Once the refugees arrive in their new countries, the panelists say it's imperative that social support structures are put in place to help the migrants not only adapt, but also succeed. 

A refugee himself who came to Canada years ago, El-Shafie says the newcomers must not be treated as victims once they arrive. Instead they must be helped to stand on their feet again. 

“We’re human beings, who need to be independent.”

Journalist Judy Trinh mentored the writer of this article through the NCM Mentoring Program 

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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Security and media experts are questioning the decision of police to grant journalists access to the personal belongings of the San Bernardino shooters. 

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, opened fire at a staff holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. Authorities later said the attacks were terrorist related. 

A few days later, reporters had access to the couple’s apartment and personal items such as photographs, passports, ID cards and social security cards. Identity cards of family members who were not linked to the attacks were also shown on live television. 

Police to blame? 

“I don’t understand why the place was not secured better and all that material taken away as potential evidence,” says Dane Rowlands, a security expert and the head of Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This was inappropriate for the authorities to have allowed to happen.”[/quote]

Rowlands says whether there was evidence or not, that was a crime scene and those items should have been taken away and not made available to journalists. 

“This was inappropriate for the authorities to have allowed to happen,” he says. “I can’t imagine any motivation to have allowed them to do so except having made a mistake on this.” 

MSNBC, one for the television outlets that showed a live feed from the apartment, said it was cleared by the FBI, but the LA Times also reported the San Bernardino police saying the apartment was still an active crime scene.  

Reporters said the landlord, Doyle Miller, allowed them in, but he told CBS he was rushed. He later clarified the reporters were given permission to enter.  

Journalists took advantage 

Paul Adams, a journalism professor at Carleton University, says the journalists benefitted from the police officers’ inability to protect a crime scene. 

“The issue of going into the apartment has to do more with the police maintaining a crime scene than it is to do with any journalistic ethics,” Adams says. “If you have access, it’s part of the story and I think it’s appropriate to tell that story.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I believe the journalists were well within their rights to show whatever information was available."[/quote]

Concerns have been raised about the ethics in showing details of personal information of family members who were not linked to the shooting at all. 

For example, MSNBC showed close up shots of personal identity cards belonging to Farook’s mother. 

Canadian media expert and head of strategic communications at Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa, Elly Alboim, says showing details of personal information of others, especially those who are not directly linked to the attacks, infringes on their personal rights. 

“It’s a clear violation of privacy and not appropriate,” he says. 

Alboim adds journalists should know better, but that they get carried away by the heat of the moment to publish everything they have access to. 

Sandy Johnson, president of the American-based National Press Foundation, says journalists are within their right to show and give any details they want to give out.  

“I believe the journalists were well within their rights to show whatever information was available, whether it was from this particular apartment or whether it was from the scene of the shooting,” she says. 

Advice for media 

However, Johnson notes, the prevalence of reporting through social media can put pressure on journalists to share information without going through normal editing processes. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The tendency to jump [to] conclusions that every attack is a terrorist attack is problematic."[/quote]

“I believe publishing information should go through an editing level because an editor can have influence and walk the reporter through the process,” she says. “That’s an age old tradition.” 

Rowlands says despite the probability of terrorism being quite low compared to other risks, the threat of it is overplayed in the media. This leads to a public reaction that does not reflect the risk. 

He cautions journalists to be wary of how they report such issues. 

“The tendency to jump [to] conclusions that every attack is a terrorist attack is problematic in terms of potential deflection of the public debate towards issues that are overplayed already,” he says. “This is something responsible journalists should be paying attention to.”

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Sunday, 13 December 2015 23:00

Refugees Reunited At Toronto Airport

Written by

by Eddie Ameh in Toronto

For Sammar Mian and Atief Sheikh and their families, waiting for more than four hours at the airport to welcome incoming Syrian refugees was worth every minute.

They are among the first private sponsors to bring Syrian refugees to their homes in Milton, Ontario. Mian and Sheikh are together hosting eleven Syrians in their homes. 

“We have no idea what they've been through, we don’t have any idea where they are coming from and how much they’ve suffered,” Mian says. “So we should try to be as helpful as we can.”

The government has started transporting thousands of Syrian refugees in fulfilment of its campaign promise to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he would bring in 10,000 refugees by the end of the year and an additional 15,000 refugees by the end of the February, although more will likely arrive over the next year.

The long wait at the airport

When the plane bringing the families of Ziad Khabbaz, 48, and his brother Mazen, 46, finally touched down on December 10th, those waiting at the airport thought it would be only moments before they met the new arrivals.

That was not the case as they had to process their permanent residence and other paperwork before leaving the airport. Overall, it took more than four hours for them to leave Terminal 1 of the Pearson International Airport. 

“They’re going to be surprised because it’s a big change for them,” Mian says.

Indeed the Khabbaz family and the other travellers seemed overwhelmed by the massive welcome they received from members of the Ahamadiyya Jama’at and Humanity First, two resettlement groups. 

Arriving to cheers and shouts was not what they anticipated. 

Rakhan Almasri, himself a refugee who arrived less than a week ago, translated for Khabbaz, who said in Arabic, “We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.”

Welcoming the children

Sheikh says his children are thrilled to be in Canada and can’t wait to start making new friends. “My children are really excited actually and want to know how children from other countries are and spend some time with them,” he says.

Eight-year-old Alisha Anwar, whose mother Mian is one of the hosts, says she can’t wait to meet the Syrian children. “I expect them to have fun and I hope to be friends with them and I expect them to be nice,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We are very surprised at the crowd here. We didn’t expect this.[/quote]

When the two families arrived, the Canadian children gave out gifts to their new friends. Despite the language barrier, they started playing and trying to speak to one another, hoping that the other would understand.

A new life in Canada

Ziad and Mazen Khabbaz fled their hometown of Homs three years ago when the war in Syria escalated. They stayed in Egypt for two and half years before finally coming to Canada.

“We will not only bring them here but we will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible,” says Ghlieb Baten, imam of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at at Milton.

The Milton branch of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at raised the funds for these two families to move to Canada. Baten says this is just the beginning. “God willing, this is going to be an ongoing process and we want to bring as many families as we possibly can,” he says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"We will make sure they integrate into the Canadian society with little difficulty as possible."[/quote]

Both Mian and Sheikh are members of the Ahmadiyya Jama’at in Milton, which has now has kickstarted a campaign dubbed “A Better Future” that aims to bring in more refugees from Syria. Baten says helping the refugees is a biblical obligation.

Almasri and the Khabbazs have been friends their whole lives and grew up together in Homs. However, the civil war separated them three years ago. While Almasri fled to Turkey, Ziad and Mazen went to Egypt. 

The three embraced for a long time when they finally were reunited at the airport. Now, they are all going to stay together  — at least temporarily — in Milton.

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by Abbas Somji in Toronto

On a chilly December weekend in East Toronto, a makeshift “tent city” appeared as the cool night air rolled in.

In the span of an afternoon on December 5th, roughly 75 campers had set up 30 tents on a patch of grass outside the city’s Church of the Resurrection on Woodbine Ave.

The event, called “Sleep Out for Syrians”, aimed to raise money for and show solidarity with displaced Syrians, many of whom live in tents in refugee camps in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

[youtube height="315" width="560"][/youtube]

For Sam Benson, it was a scene that was all too familiar. He left behind family in Syria and moved to Canada 15 years ago to rebuild a life.

“Those people did not leave willingly,” says Benson of the displaced Syrians. “They got forced to leave. There is pressure that made them leave.”

Benson speaks from painful experience.

“I had to leave because of the lack of freedom of religion and political expression,” says Benson, insisting he’s now exactly where he belongs.

A "burning need to help"

Elizabeth Dove with the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) is the lead organizer for “Sleep Out for Syrians”.

Dove says the East Toronto community felt a “burning need to help” after seeing images of Alan Kurdi in the media. The three-year-old Syrian boy drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe with his family. He made international headlines this summer after his lifeless body was photographed, lying facedown on the shoreline.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Roughly 75 campers had set up 30 tents on a patch of grass outside the city’s Church of the Resurrection.[/quote]

“My daughter calls it the picture of the boy on the beach, but she’s never seen it,” says Dove, who says she’s like one of many parents she’s encountered who struggle to explain the Syrian crisis to their children.

“You want to share some of these realities of the world and why it’s important to extend beyond your reach and understand your privilege, and there’s only so much horror that kids can take,” says Dove. Nevertheless, she insists that learning about these and similar issues and participating in events like "Sleep Out for Syrians" is all part of the process of her children becoming global citizens.

Helping new families thrive, not just survive

The Canadian government suggests that settlement costs for a new refugee family will total somewhere around $27,000 for the first year — the equivalent of a family on social assistance.

Dove insists that’s not enough. In order to raise more money for incoming refugees, DECA partnered up with The Neighbourhood Group, which has pledged to raise $120,000 to support three families.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The East Toronto community felt a “burning need to help”.[/quote]

Says Dove, “This money will help set them up in terms of housing, in terms of the needs that they have around their home, around town, [so they can] buy metro passes, that kind of thing.” She also hopes the money will help them feel less stressed while getting used to a new language and a new culture here in Canada.

At “Sleep Out for Syrians”, the group more than doubled its fundraising goal of $10,000, raising more than $20,000 from the event and an accompanying charity dinner. 

Dove says the money raised will make the difference between incoming families surviving and thriving in Canada.

Welcoming new arrivals

As of this week, the first wave of Syrian refugees has begun to arrive at airports in Montreal and Toronto. From there, they will be sent to 36 destination cities around the country.

For Sam Benson, this is both a source of joy and concern. “I hope that they will be happier. They’re kids uprooted from their country, and being uprooted is not easy.”

“In my personal viewpoint, I would suggest a good screening because it’s not safe to get everyone in because who knows that those people were not seeded by the Islamic State,” he adds. “But they’re human beings, and we have to do something about it.”

With regards to public concerns over bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016, Dove says there will always be dissent in these circumstances.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The first wave of Syrian refugees has begun to arrive at airports in Montreal and Toronto.[/quote]

“You can’t ignore the fact that there is a stream of people who are afraid of the ‘other,’” says Dove.

This ‘othering’ has applied to many ethnic groups throughout history, not just Syrian refugees.

“People are afraid of the Irish, afraid of the Italians, afraid of the Jews, afraid of the Yugoslavian Muslims, and they’ve all become the fabric of our society,” says Dove. “Productive citizens, treasured neighbours, and people really need to open their hearts because there’s nothing that bares out this is going to be a problem.”

According to her, Canada’s sudden intake of Syrian refugees is all in keeping with the country’s history of welcoming those displaced. “I think we need to continue to educate and be patient with Canadians and also remind them that history is completely on our side.”

Once enough funds have been raised, Lifeline Syria has agreed to match a family to the sponsor group, whom Dove says could arrive in Canada within weeks.

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