Barb Brouwer – Contributor
Food is the fare by which the local Syrian community is hoping to bring two more families at risk to Salmon Arm.
A fundraising dinner prepared by Syrian women and several other willing helpers in the community will be held on Saturday, April 6 at the E Free Church.
Gulistan Abdo is keen to help bring her husband Lokman Mustafa’s family to safety.
Originally from Syria, Gulistan says she and her husband left Syria for Turkey two years into the civil war.
“We didn’t have fighting but it was getting closer and we had no power, no water,” she says, noting her husband came home one day to find her crying and telling him she couldn’t stay in Syria anymore. “My sister said we should come to Turkey for a better life.”
But Kurdish people often meet with hostility in Turkey or any of the other countries neighbouring Syria.
Every member of Salmon Arm’s Syrian refugee community fears greatly for family members still in Syria or nearby countries where its citizens have sought asylum.
Lokman’s niece Zhenda Abdulsalam, who is married to his cousin Ayid Farhan, and their baby Nayia, his nephew Sipan Abdulsalam and his wife Nasrin Ali are living uneasily in a small two-bedroom home in Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
There is escalating fear that life will become very dangerous for the Kurdish family members, who fled the Syrian war in 2015.
“Nobody likes the Kurds,” says Brian Ayotte, chair of the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition of groups who began working to bring Syrian refugees to Canada in 2015. “The Americans who have supported the Kurds are pulling out of the area, leaving them very vulnerable.”
Gulistan, who arrived in Salmon Arm with her little family in 2016, points out that Kurdish people are unable to obtain passports in Syria.
“Kurds were ignored,” she says, saddened that her homeland was taken over by Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
While Ayid, Sipan and Nasrin work, the employment is far from satisfactory.
Sipan is a certified engineer and Nasrin is a French teacher, although she was unable to obtain her fourth and final-year certificate because war broke out and it was too dangerous for her to go to retrieve it at the university. Ayid is a taxi driver and also does valet parking. The three work 12 to 15-hour days for little money.
Zhenda, a certified X-ray technician, has one child with another one on the way. She is the homemaker, and must remain indoors all day because it is unsafe for her to go out on her own.
The four adults are extremely cautious, hoping not to call attention to themselves.
The families have been vetted by the United Nations and will have to get further security checks through the Canadian Consulate in Arbil. The process to get them out of Iraq is expected to take one to one-and-a-half years.
Because the sponsors have chosen the two families rather than accepting ones put forward by Ottawa, the sponsorship will have to be a private one, without six months of federal funding.
The cost to bring a married couple to Salmon Arm is $20,000, and $24,000 for a couple with a baby.
Members of St. Joseph’s Church and other citizens have raised almost half of the $44,000 needed.
Proud of the vigorous support this community continues to offer to bring Syrian refugees to Salmon Arm, Ayotte says efforts will continue.
“This is not like Vietnam where there was a single blitz, followed by nothing,” he says.
The menu for the April 6 dinner will include a delicious mix of Middle Eastern foods: kibbeh, a dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lean beef; falafel, a deep-fried ball, or a flat or doughnut-shaped patty, made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both; chicken kabsa; baba ghanoush; tabbouleh – a simple salad of very finely chopped vegetables, lots of fresh parsley and bulgur wheat, all tossed with lime juice and olive oil; vegetable soup; kanafeh, a traditional Arab dessert made with thin pastry soaked in sweet syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, and the more familiar baclava, a sweet pastry made of filo and nuts.
Tickets for the dinner are $60 and include a $40 tax receipt. They can be purchased weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Shuswap Immigrant Services at 371 Hudson Ave. NE.