Members of a Rohingya refugee family got an early taste of the Canadian winter when they arrived in Brantford.
The early November snowfall was a first for Anuwar Yosof, his wife, Bilkis Husen, and their sons, Rehan, 4, and one-year-old Ridhwan.
“We brought a hot meal to their door and he said, ‘I can’t come out because it’s all white outside,” Imam Abu Noman Tarek of the Brantford Mosque, said with a laugh.
Tarek is part of CARES in Brant, a group sponsoring the family, along with the Muslim Association of Brantford.
According to the UN Refugee Agency Canada, violence and persecution in Myanmar, formerly Burma, a southeast Asian nation of more than 100 ethnic groups bordering India, Bangladesh, China. Laos and Thailand, have driven more than a million Rohingya from their homes. Rohingya refugees fled violence in Myanmar at a staggering rate in 2017 when violence broke out, including the burning of entire Rohingya villages.
“At the peak of the crisis, thousands were crossing into Bangladesh daily,” says the agency’s website. “Most walked for days through jungles and mountains, or braved dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal to reach safety. They arrive exhausted, hungry and sick—urgently in need of protection and humanitarian assistance.”
The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Rohingya refugees have fled violence in successive waves of displacement since the early 1990s. The latest exodus began in August 2017, when violence broke out in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, driving more than 742,000 to seek refuge in refugee settlements in Bangladesh where conditions are overcrowded and basic, with inadequate shelter and a lack of clean water and proper sanitation.
“They are known as the most forgotten people in the world,” said Tarek. “At the camps there is no access to education or health care. There is no hope, no future.”
That has changed for the Brantford newcomers, who are in the final stretch of their 14-day COVID-19 quarantine and “looking forward to becoming immersed in the community,” said Tarek.
CARES and the Muslim association previously sponsored a Syrian family, which came to the city in 2016.
They helped ensure all was ready for the newest family’s arrival Nov. 18.
“This family and over a dozen more refugee families have been saved from great hardship and danger thanks to being sponsored by wonderful groups of people in Brantford and Brant County,” said Tarek. “We also are incredibly grateful for the financial donations that have helped to ensure each family has the support they need.”
Sponsoring a refugee family for a year, providing them with lodging, furnishings, clothing, food and transportation costs, adds up to about $30,000.
Tarek is passionate about sponsorship, having himself come to Canada from Bangladesh 20 years ago.
“A miracle happens. You land in Canada as a refugee and become a resident. Canadians welcomed me. These children can become anything they want in the future.”
Tarek said the pandemic is making fundraising difficult for all organizations but assistance is still needed to help cover the costs of supporting the family to the end of their first year in the city.
“We acknowledge it’s not an easy time,” he said. “Many people have lost their jobs because of COVID. But we can still help one another.”
Tarek said 100 per cent of donations will go to directly to the family. Contributions can be made online at donate.icnareliefcanada.ca/donation/srs, then selecting “Brantford” as the city and “Rohingya Refugee Sponsorship” as the project. Donations also can be made by contacting Tarek at firstname.lastname@example.org
Registered charitable organization, ICNA Relief, under Tarek’s leadership since 2016, has arranged for 85 refugee families to Canada who have settled in 15 cities, including Brantford. All donations to ICNA Relief for refugee sponsorship are tax-deductible.
CARES in Brant is planning to soon host an online event so the community can meet the Brantford newcomers.