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June 20 is World Refugee Day - Dedicated Syrian refugee support worker helping families in Peel

Peel CAS remains the only CAS in Ontario to have a specialized immigration team to support children, youth and families experiencing immigration challenges. Together, they speak 14 different languages and come from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Their first hand immigration experience – seven came to Canada as immigrants or refugees themselves – is invaluable as they work to support newcomers facing settlement challenges.

For Mohamed Malik, the immigration team’s dedicated Syrian refugee support worker, facing settlement challenges is a story he knows all too well. Born in Sudan during a time of civil war and military coup, he spent some of his childhood years in high conflict zones. “I know what it’s like to have to flee your home and leave everything behind,” says Malik. “My childhood experiences inspire me to help families who have faced conflict and trauma.”

Malik’s proactive role is to provide early intervention and support to Syrian newcomers. Whether he is consulting with another CAS, doing a training session for a settlement agency to better understand how agencies can work together to help families, or accompanying a peer to meet with a Syrian family who speaks only Arabic, Malik’s passion for his work is evident.

“Many families don’t know about CAS or our role and how we can help,” says Malik. “I have the unique opportunity to work with families to help make their experience a positive one. I try and educate families about things like child basic safety needs, the use of physical discipline and supervision. I can only hope that my work impacts their lives in a positive way.”

Malik recently worked with a refugee family whose struggles, both before and after coming to Canada, are more than many of us face in a lifetime. Victims of religious oppression back in Syria, the Alko family applied four years ago to come to Canada after suffering a brutal attack by militia. “My husband and I practice two different religions,” says Alko. “We were attacked in our home, beaten and basically left for dead. All we wanted was to live in a place that was safe for our son.”

They finally got their approval to leave Syria when Canada announced the sponsorship of 25,000 refugees. After using funds intended for housing to come to Toronto from out East, the Alko’s faced many challenges – the biggest being finding a place to live with no rental or credit history. “We tried to stay with my brother but the landlord didn’t agree. The basement we finally found was in a house being renovated upstairs and had no windows, no light and was infested with rats.”

When it came time to leave the hospital after having their second son, they didn’t know they needed to have a car seat. To ensure the baby’s safety, a referral was made to Peel CAS.  “We had no idea what to expect. We were a little scared, but a worker came and brought us a car seat and even got us a jacket for our older son. She went above and beyond to help us.” Once the condition of the family’s basement apartment was discovered, the family’s file was transferred to Mohamed who would work with the family over the next few months to get them settled.

“It wasn’t a safe environment for children,” says Malik. “We provided a crib, diapers, and other basic necessities. I connected the family with Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services and found them an apartment. Dad got a job and we were able to close our CAS file with the family. However the family will always have the option to receive ongoing support through the Syrian project as needed.”

“As we meet people within the Arab community in Mississauga we are hearing different things about CAS,” says Alko. “Things that are so different than what we actually experienced. We realize the myths exist because people don’t really understand what CAS does. I wanted to share our story to help others learn more. We have been given so much support and Mohamed really understood the challenges we were facing. If not for him we would still be living in that basement. We are so grateful for everything we have and for how Peel CAS has helped us.”

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