As Syrians begin arriving in Canada as part of the government’s plan to resettle 25,000 refugees, the Armenian community in Toronto is rallying to help by sponsoring hundreds of families fleeing the war-torn Middle Eastern country, CTV reports.
Arsho Zakarian is an Armenian-Canadian woman who lives in Toronto. She has volunteered to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, and is eagerly awaiting their arrival on Canadian soil.
The Manougian family, who she is sponsoring, consists of a grandmother, her son, daughter-in-law and their infant son.
Inspired by her own family’s history of resettlement, Zakarian told CTV’s Canada AM on Thursday that she decided around this time last year that she wanted to sponsor a family. Her father and grandfather came to Canada to flee the Armenian Genocide. She says she can relate to the Syrian refugees’ experience of fear, hunger and being destitute.
“It is a very Canadian tradition,” Zakarian said of providing aid to refugees. “The first international humanitarian act by Canada was towards the Armenian orphans.”
Zakarian didn’t know her sponsored family ahead of time, but was matched with them through her local Armenian community centre. She signed up to sponsor them last February and has been waiting for their application to be approved ever since.
The Manougian family is currently in Beirut. The hold-up in their application approval involves the interview at the Canadian embassy. There hasn’t been a date set for that yet. There is confusion as to why it is taking so long, Zakarian said.
Other families have been approved to come to Canada after waiting only a few months, bnt the Manougian family has been waiting 10 months. Their baby was only two months old when Zakarian signed up to sponsor them. The family recently marked his first birthday.
Though she’s anxious to welcome the family to Toronto, Zakarian said it is an “exciting” time.
“I want that little boy to grow up in a safe environment with all the opportunities of life and education,” she said.
While she waits, the Armenian-Canadian community is coming together to help, Zakarian said.
She knows of about 300 Syrian refugee families being sponsored through her Armenian-Canadian community centre and other church organizations.
“The help is overwhelming, it’s so positive,” Zakarian said.
Zakarian has been collecting donations to help these families resettle and adapt to life in Canada. The items she’s collecting include kitchen supplies, clothing, and winter coats.
She has been storing these items in her home, which is getting crowded with boxes.
“Now my house looks like the Tower of Babylon,” Zakarian said with a laugh.
On Canada AM on Thursday morning, host Beverly Thomson informed Zakarian that a local business, All Cianadan Self Storage, has offered her the use of donated storage space for one year.