Businesses and entrepreneurs across Canada stepping in to help Syrian refugees

CALGARY – Businesses and entrepreneurs across the country are stepping in to help settle the thousands of Syrian refugees coming to Canada over the next few weeks.

Real estate companies are contributing apartments, airlines are offering seats and individual business leaders are chipping in cash.

Calgary-based Mainstreet Equity Corp. offered at least 200 apartments across western Canada to house refugees at a discounted rate.

Wednesday’s offer follows a similar one last week by fellow Calgary-based Boardwalk Rental Communities to provide 350 apartments across the Prairies and in Montreal, and Westbank Corp.’s donation of 12 fully furnished and stocked apartments in downtown Vancouver.

Bob Dhillon, the CEO of Mainstreet, said his experience immigrating to Canada from war-torn Liberia with his family in the 1970s helped motivate him to assist the refugees.

“I can relate to what these guys are going through. They’re going through turmoil, hardship, a difficult time, and if we can make their lives easier on their entry to Canada, why not?” Dhillon said in an interview.

“I think how we made this country so beautiful is to open our hearts up at times like this.”

The company says it hasn’t finalized what kind of discount will be provided, but said it could include temporarily waiving the rent or offering the discounted rate for a longer period of time.

David McIlveen, director of community development at Boardwalk, says his company will be offering discounts of $150 a month for the first year, similar to what it offers in its other affordable housing programs.

“We follow the news like anybody else, and we knew there was a need,” said McIlveen.

In Ontario, meantime, a businessman in Guelph has spearheaded the future settlement of 50 Syrian families in his community.

Jim Estill, chief executive of Danby appliances and a former Blackberry Ltd. director, says he’s helped organize charities in Guelph to prepare for the refugees and called on his business associates to help set up accommodation and other necessities.

Estill says he’s also agreed to post the cash needed to sponsor refugees, which amounts to an estimated $27,000 for each family of four — but he’s downplaying the commitment.

“This isn’t about the money,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s about landing people properly and integrating them …. I just know what’s going on is horrific and we need to do something, and I didn’t see people doing things,” said Estill.

He added that Canada’s business community can help out both financially and by tapping into business networks to provide necessities for the influx of refugees.

“I think the best way to help is stand up and say you’re going to do it, and go do it,” he said.

Earlier this month, Air Canada offered to help ferry refugees to Canada, and Calgary-based charter airline Enerjet says it will make its fleet of aircraft available to the government to assist with refugee resettlement.

Following the government’s revision of its refugee plan Tuesday, Canada is set to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of the year, with another 15,000 set to arrive by the end of February 2016.

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