For Syrian refugee in Victoria, the beat goes on

Syrian refugee Sari Alesh is hoping to resume his budding music career in Canada.

The 31-year-old violinist, who has played with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, arrived here in February and is taking English-language courses at the University of Victoria. He performed Tuesday at an Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria event to recognize the community’s support for refugees escaping violence in Syria.

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Representatives from the Victoria Foundation, the United Way and the Red Cross were among those attending.

“I’m so happy, I’m so glad to be here,” Alesh said. “Life in Canada is wonderful.”

He said he would like to find work as soon as possible.

People in Syria, where his family still lives, continue to go through tough times, Alesh said. “The life is difficult for so many people.”

Alesh said he has met some friends in Victoria, and dreams of taking more music courses — hopefully leading to a master’s degree at UVic, where he has already taken part in two concerts. “I’m planning for that for later,” he said.

Many of the refugees come as part of families, but Alesh arrived on his own through funding by a private-sponsorship group — one of about 35 such groups that have formed with the guidance of the ICA. To date, the majority of Syrians who have come to Victoria are government-assisted refugees, meaning they have been selected based on their vulnerability and receive government funding during their first year in Canada.

The private-sponsorship groups spawned through the ICA have raised a combined total of over $1.5 million for the refugees they support, said Cathy Hunter, president of the ICA board of directors. She said there has been “a collaboration of generosity and outreach” that has allowed the fundraising to happen.

So far, about 80 refugees with private sponsorship have come to Victoria through the ICA, along with about 175 government-assisted refugees, said the ICA’s Sabine Lehr. About 30 of the government-assisted group have gone on to find accommodation in Nanaimo or Duncan.

The overall total by the end of the year will be about 350, said ICA chief executive Jean McRae.

Lehr noted that the Anglican Diocese of B.C. and some national groups are also arranging private sponsorships locally.

She praised the public response to the refugee situation by people in Greater Victoria.

“It’s been fantastic,” she said.

Some of the refugees who have arrived will eventually be looking to bring more family members here, said McRae. “They’ll be interested in sponsoring their relatives who are still in danger and still in precarious situations, so we’re still looking for people who are willing to step up in the private-sponsorship area.”

There is also an ongoing need for volunteers for such tasks as helping refugees practise their English and showing them around town.

Housing will continue to be a need, McRae said, but finding accommodation for Syrian refugees has gone well lately. The number of government-assisted refugees waiting at a local hotel for a permanent residence is down to 14, she said. “One of those is a very big family of eight, another needs a wheelchair-accessible apartment.”

To get involved with the ICA, call 250-388-4728 or go to icavictoria.org.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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