Quebec town ‘excited’ as entire community sponsors Syrian refugee family

April 27, 2016

By Giuseppe Valiante, Toronto Star |

Although the Apkarians have never stepped foot in Sutton, Que., they are among the most popular and discussed people in the bucolic resort town of 4,000 residents.

A bank account has been opened on their behalf, a home is being prepared and an organic farmer has already promised them free, fresh fruits and vegetables for one year.

“People have been asking me, ‘When are they coming?’ They are all excited,” said Lu Emanuel, the Sutton resident who started the project to have the town sponsor a Syrian refugee family.

The Apkarians will be the first Syrian refugees in Sutton, Emanuel said. And while Hay Doun, a Montreal-based Armenian community group, is backing the application, the family is effectively being sponsored by the entire town.

“People in the community are by and large very happy and excited we are doing this,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel first contacted Rafi Allaouirdian, an Armenian shoemaker from Lebanon who’s been living in Sutton for several years.

“My ex-wife is a Syrian-Armenian,” said Allaouirdian. “We know a lot of people who are refugees and living all over the world. I said maybe I could find a family to sponsor. And that’s when the Apkarians came into the picture.”

The couple and their three children, aged between 15 and 20, are in Lebanon waiting for the Canadian government to give them a medical examination. The mother is Allaouirdian’s sister-in-law.

“If they are called for the medical then it’s an automatic Yes (to come to Canada),” he said. “From what I understand there is no ‘No,’ it’s always ‘Yes.’ ”

When the Apkarians will arrive is unclear, however, as they wind their way through Canada’s refugee-settling processing system.

Most of the thousands of refugees Quebec has agreed to accept since last year have settled in big cities, notably Montreal, where there are schools and other services aimed at helping them integrate.

That’s not the case in Sutton, where Lu said the closest services dedicated to refugees are a 45-minute drive away in Granby.

Although they will be far from their Syrian hometown of Aleppo, the Apkarians won’t be alone.

Roughly 90 people have donated money, supplies or time in order to help the family until they are self-sufficient.

A group of residents recently held a fundraising concert attended by roughly 100 people in order to collect money for the Apkarians and other events are planned.

People have already promised to volunteer to help the family learn English and French and a registered nurse has pledged to assist them with navigating the health-care system.

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