From Syrian refugees to business owners in 1 year

Syrian couple who came to Victoria, B.C., as refugees open new business making food

By Gregor Craigie, CBC News
Posted: Jun 13, 2017 3:01 PM PT           Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017 3:01 PM PT

Ibrahim Hajibrahim and Ranim Khochkar came to Canada as refugees in 2016. They now make Syrian food and have a food company called Saraya Hot Bread in Victoria, B.C. (Gregor Craigie)

A Syrian couple who came to Canada as refugees last year are the new owners of a fledgling food business they started with the help of new Canadian friends.

Ibrahim Hajibrahim and Ranim Khochkar make several types of Mediterranean food with traditional Syrian recipes, such as Baba ghanoush, Dolma, lentil fingers and stuffed hot bread.

They now sell their food under the name Saraya Hot Bread at a deli in Victoria, B.C.

Making food comes naturally to the family but starting a new business in a new country with a long list of licences and health requirements did not. So, the couple relied on the help of volunteers from a local refugee sponsorship group.

Karen Short is a volunteer with the Harbour of Hope Refugee Assistance Society, which is working to sponsor Hajibrahim’s sister to come to Canada as a refugee. In six weeks, Short and other volunteers helped the Syrian couple set up a sole proprietorship, obtain necessary licences, and find an accredited commercial kitchen.

Ibrahim Hajibrahim and Ranim Khochkar stand with Lisa Buchan, the deli director at the Red Barn Markets, and Karen Short, with the Harbour of Hope Refugee Assistance Society in Victoria, B.C. (Gregor Craigie)

Ibrahim Hajibrahim, Ranim Khochkar, Lisa Buchan, and Karen Short
Ibrahim Hajibrahim and Ranim Khochkar stand with Lisa Buchan, the deli director at the Red Barn Markets, and Karen Short, with the Harbour of Hope Refugee Assistance Society in Victoria, B.C. (Gregor Craigie)

“Ibrahim said do you think people would buy our food if we had a restaurant?” Short recalled. “There isn’t a Syrian restaurant in Victoria and startup costs for a restaurant are huge. And I said, well, I think people would buy your food if you could think of a way to sell it without the expenditure of setting up a storefront operation.”

The food is now sold at one of the Red Barn Market grocery stores in Victoria, B.C.

The deli director of Red Barn Markets, Lisa Buchan, said it was an easy decision to sell the product.

“Well, I tasted it,” she said, “and that pretty much sold itself.”

The Saraya Hot Bread foods are now only sold in one location, but Buchan said “we’re hoping to expand to other locations soon.”

Hajibrahim and Khochkar are hopeful their new business will help them make ends meet in their new hometown.

Rent is expensive in Victoria, and they have four young children to support, as well as Hajibrahim’s mother.

A new business and a new life in Canada

As was the case with so many other Syrian refugees, the couple never planned on leaving their home.

But when armoured vehicles surrounded their neighbourhood in the city of Latakia, in 2013, Hajibrahim feared for his safety.

He is a pharmacist and had provided medicine to many people in the community during the fighting. He worried that he might be arrested as a result, so he fled to Turkey.

Hajibrahim hopes to work as a pharmacist here, eventually, but first he will have to recertify and learn more technical English. That is likely to take three years, but in the meantime he said the family’s new business venture has made him feel like his family belongs.

“So, we feel now like we are not refugees,” Hajibrahim said. “We are settled people.”

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Haida Gwaii Sponsorship Joys and Sorrows

We are totally grateful to the generosity of Haida Gwaiians and folks from all across British Columbia, Canada and even the United States. Your donations have helped the Sirhans with dental treatments and medical trips to Vancouver. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!

Successful Dental Surgery
With the assistance of our local dentist, we flew Aya, Shahid and Alaa out to Vancouver in early February to have their dental surgery with a paediatric dentist. After almost nine hours, the dentist fixed a total of 38 cavities, some gum disease and infected teeth.

New Leg for Douaa
On January 12, Douaa flew to Vancouver with Hassan and she received her new walking leg! Here’s a video link to the day she was fitted her new leg.

This little 5-year-old girl is determined to walk again. Since her return to Haida Gwaii, she is able to participate in dance classes, PE and independently check out the equipment at playgrounds.

Our Next Steps
Shahid will fly off again to Vancouver as she now has a medical appointment with an orthopedist at BC Children’s Hospital on March 27.

Both Shahid and Douaa were injured in Syria when the rocket hit their house. According to the doctor, Shahid needs multiple knee surgeries to correct her bone growth till she is a young adult.

Douaa will also need to eventually head off to Vancouver for her paediatric dental care in the next few months. Hassan and Lama had undergone a few dental treatments to fix cavities and infections.

Condolences

Our sincere condolences to Hassan, his parents and siblings who are still in Syria. His older brother Abdullah and another White Helmet volunteer died on March 20 when their vehicle was hit by a missile.

Abdullah was the Director of the Syria Civil Defence in Dara’a. He and hundreds of White Helmet volunteers work so hard in saving lives. Abdullah left behind his wife and five young children.

Here is White Helmet’s tribute to Abdullah on the Syria Campaign page. It is sad to see that the civil war in Syria has impacted many innocent lives.
If you would like to learn more about The White Helmets, you can check out their website or view the 40-minute documentary “The White Helmets” on Netflix. This documentary recently won an Oscar in February. Syrian cinematographer Khaled Khatib was denied entry to the U.S. to attend the Oscar ceremony.

Hassan’s heart wrenching interview about his brother Abdullah was aired this morning on CBC’s Daybreak North. Here’s the link to the web story and sound recording – http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/haidagwaii-refugee-in-mourning-after-brother-is-killed-in-targeted-attack-1.4037130

 

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Thanks for supporting our new Syrian friends.

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Operation Refugees Haida Gwaii
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Queen Charlotte, BC V0T 1S0
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Newcomer Arrival -The Galiano Experience

newcomersOur greeting group were so happy with how plans turned out at the airport and getting back over to the Island. The four newcomers completed their border checks in record time and were in the International Arrivals Lounge before we even knew it! There they were… lovely R in fashionable black puffy parka and cornrow braids, E taking easy charge of his little sister, and serene and grateful M. They had been traveling since Sunday and so were exceedingly tired. We opened up the clothes bag and were grateful for Anna’s provisions for all. The scarves they wrapped around themselves immediately – staying warm will be a challenge!

Setting out, we stopped at the outdoor vegetable market in Steveston where M elected to get out of the car and have a look around while E helped pick out familiar-looking vegetables. Then all rallied with a trip into Winners for shoes, socks and other necessaries. The ferry line-up proved a good place for the two women to catch short naps in the car while E and Bruce shared some Chinese food in the concourse.

Once back on Galiano, Diana and I went in to orient them somewhat to the house. It will be perfect for them and what a wonderfully well-stocked kitchen Janice has provided! Before we left for the night, M put on her long patterned African skirt, gathered R, D, Diana and me into a circle and said a prayer of thanks for their safe arrival and their warm welcome. What a wonderful day!

Tomorrow Jan and I will go over in the morning and Quetzo and Janice will go over in the afternoon. A schedule will develop as we begin to see their needs and how each of us with our unique skills can fill these needs. Stay tuned!

Thanks to everyone for the parts you have played in ensuring our progress thus far. Lots of learning still to do but we are so happy the start of their time here has gone so very well!

by Marian Lowry