Surrey Sikh community to make Christmas brighter for the city’s Iraqi refugees

posted on December 24, 2014

By Larissa Cahute, Vancouver Desi | Link to Article

By Larissa Cahute, Vancouver Desi | Link to Article

For the past few Christmases, Surrey’s Iraqi Christian community — made up of more than 1,000 refugee families who’ve escaped persecution in Iraq and Syria — have celebrated by exchanging Dollar Store gifts and sharing a McDonald’s meal.

It’s all the strapped community has been able to afford — until this year.

“We don’t have a lot of resources here,” said Samira Astifo, member of the Iraqi Christian — also known as Chaldean — community.

Astifo immigrated to Vancouver before the Gulf War took place some 24 years ago. Shortly after her arrival and the outbreak of war, she sponsored the rest of her family to come as refugees, and the community has been growing ever since.

In the midst of the ongoing war, conditions in Iraq and Syria, and threats from ISIS, the community has sponsored about 1,000 families in the past three years and expects that number to double in the New Year as they wait for more families — who are currently living in tents at refugee camps in Northern Iraq — to arrive.

“With ISIS, they took their religion, took their cities, took their belongings, so basically they have nothing,” said Astifo.

While the community has found some funding, it still struggles to make ends meet as members “work around the clock” to offer settlement and English language programs, help newcomers find jobs, and organize events, such as the annual low-budget Christmas dinner.

But this year’s Chaldean Christmas will be much brighter thanks to Surrey community activist Mani Fallon and the Guru Nanak Free Kitchen (GNFK).

Fallon and the kitchen have offered to step in to serve 600 meals and provide more than 300 donated toys for this year’s dinner, being held Saturday at St. Matthew’s R C Parish on 88 Avenue.

“It just seemed wrong to have McDonald’s on Christmas,” Fallon told Vancouver Desi, adding she was unaware the large Chaldean community even existed “right here in Surrey.”

So in an effort to bring them a little more Christmas cheer, Fallon reached out to her social network and quickly saw hundreds of toy gifts donated. Indy Panchi with the GNFK also offered the kitchen’s services.

“We know what persecution is all about — our community has suffered as well,” Panchi said. “We fully understand they’re traumatized, they’ve come from a very, very difficult and hostile environment and we’ll be honoured to serve them.”

“What a great way to bridge communities and bring people together all in the spirit of Christmas in the most multicultural city in Canada,” added Fallon.

And Astifo couldn’t be more grateful for the Christmas miracle.

“My house is full of 300 gifts now — basically my living room is full of boxes,” she said. “And those toys are worth a lot of money.

“It’s amazing … you know, there’s hope. The kids are going to go crazy this year.”

Donations for the community can be made out to St. Andrew Kim Parish for the Chaldean church.

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