Lower Mainland Sikh Community Rallies To Help Syrian Refugees

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The Lower Mainland Sikh community has come together to offer housing, schooling, food, clothing and a slate of services to help support to the Syrian refugees who are expected to arrive in the area over the next few months.

Officials estimate around 2,500 refugees could land in the region within the next few weeks, as part of the federal government plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the new year.

"The Sikh community has come to Canada themselves in many different ways from the early 1900's and onwards," said Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai.

syria refugees
A Syrian refugee boy who fled violence in Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab or Kobani seen in the border town of Suruc, Turkey, in January. (Photo: Emrah Gurel/AP)

"Welcoming others, newcomers, was part of their life, whether they knew them or not. Whether immigrants came from India, or whether they were refugees in tumultuous times in the during the '80, the Sikh way, the Canadian way, was always to give them a home, help them at the temple and help feed them," he said.

Over the weekend Sarai facilitated a forum of Sikh organizations which had all expressed a desire to answer the Canadian government's call for help in resettling the refugees. The result is a list of wide ranging services: 

  • Free tuition for 1,000 students at Khalsa School for one year.
  • Free meals, clothing and blankets for 2,000 refugees from Gurdwaras in Vancouver, Richmond, New Westminster, Abbotsford and Surrey.
  • A provincewide campaign to find free housing for an expected 200 families.
  • Transportation from the airport.
  • Pro bono medical services.
  • Childcare for as many as 100 children.

Schooling for all religions

The Khalsa School, which has two campuses in Surrey and one in Mission, offers K-12 education based on the standardized B.C. Dogwood curriculum.

"We even have several teachers who speak Arabic, and we will do whatever we can to help the new students feel welcome." said principal Kamalpreet Bagga in a statement.

At the schools one period a day is set aside for Sikh religious or cultural studies, but Sarai says refugee students would not be required to take those courses and that interfaith teaching will be offered.

"Whether immigrants came from India, or whether they were refugees in tumultuous times... the Sikh way, the Canadian way, was always to give them a home." — Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai

"Obviously they're not going to be Sikh. They're probably going to Shia or Sunni Muslim or Christians," said Sarai.

"So [the schools] would help facilitate any religious teachings that they may need. They basically want to make them feel welcome, feel at home."

​The group that met over the weekend has adopted the name Sikh Societies of British Columbia, and says the value of donations being offered is as high as $5 million.

"The community was grateful to take upon this challenge while being mindful of the fact that there might be some cultural and language barriers," the group said in a statement.

"Other community organizations are invited to join this cause as it affects our community as a whole and not just the Sikh community."

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