The lobby of the Toronto Plaza Hotel, located on Wilson Avenue near Downsview Arena, hums with laughter, conversation and the scampering of Syrian children running and exploring their temporary home. Women chat in groups, many of them holding their pregnant bellies, and the men converse separately; some smoke outside in clusters while five boys play soccer.
The Toronto Plaza Hotel will be home to around 400 Syrian refugees until COSTI Immigrant Services can relocate them to permanent housing.
As an active and passionate participant of NGO projects overseas, General Manager Rehan Chaudary welcomes the newly landed refugees and is happy to take part in his own NGO project right at home.
The refugees arrived earlier this month over a four-day period, in accordance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to approve 25,000 refugees to live in Canada. The hotel has rented 100 rooms for its uncommon guests and expects 80 more by the end of this week.
“It has really been affecting the business,” says Chaudary. “The tourists aren’t used to so many guests and local travelers are not always happy to see the Syrians. We still have walk-in traffic and our banquet halls are open, but right now we are fully catering to our Syrian guests.”
The hotel is doing everything they can to accommodate the needs of the refugees.
The hotel restaurant, Greenery Restaurant, has Muslim cooks who prepare halal meals for the Syrians three times a day, free of charge. The hotel also has a medical team on standby to assist the pregnant women –one who just gave birth –and tend to the children, which Chaudary describes some as “in pretty bad shape.”
Chaudary has hired a few Arabic-speaking employees who communicate with the refugees and who have placed signs written in Arabic around the hotel. The language barrier has been extremely difficult for the staff as almost none of the Syrians currently residing in the hotel speak English.
Recently, on January 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., The Clothing Drive [an initiative to collect winter clothes for Syrian refugees] and Let Them be Kids [an initiative to collect toys for Syrian refugee children] held a pop-up shop at the hotel. Volunteers gave the refugees donated winter clothes, toys and other necessities, while COSTI Immigrant Services works to fulfill the refugees’ necessities of permanent housing.
COSTI has hired extra staff to speed up the housing process as they have never handled so many refugees in such a short period of time. The agency, however, strives to find the refugees homes, assist them in the employment process and offer them free English lessons.
The Syrian refugees at Toronto Plaza Hotel have endured significant hardships these past few years, from losing their homes to watching bombs go off in front of them. It has been a difficult journey for them as they have fled their violence-stricken country to an unfamiliar place where they do not know the language or the culture. The Downsview community, however, has been displaying its generosity through donations, sponsorships and simply by welcoming the refugees into the community.