Brian Ayotte, head of the former Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition, looks over a pamphlet describing the situation for Syrian refugees. (Observer file photo)

Syrian refugees fear for lives at home

Former head of Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition says Canada should be doing more

(SEE ACCOMPANYING ARTICLE ON HOW THE SYRIAN FAMILIES ARE DOING IN SALMON ARM AT THIS LINK)

As the man who was at the helm of the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition, Brian Ayotte has a unique view of the project that brought nine Syrian refugee families to Salmon Arm.

Mustafa Zakreet, the first Syrian to arrive, has been in the community for about two-and-a-half years, and the coalition, which coordinated the efforts, has completed its work.

Exhausting and rewarding is how Ayotte describes the past two years.

“I think, speaking on behalf of most of the volunteers, I think it was a little more work than people anticipated. They (the refugees) have experienced trauma, huge losses and they needed a lot of help and encouragement. It wasn’t so much raising the money, but accompanying them in this transition.

“Some cases, it was very easy, others it was difficult, but they have all made an amazing transition to Canadian culture.”

Related: City prepares for refugees

Ayotte says there’s a little fatigue on the part of volunteers but most want to keep at it.

“It’s even very rewarding. When you see the smile on the faces, particularly the children, and hear the thank-you from the parent, it’s pretty powerful.”

All the families are very motivated, he adds, doing their best to find work and be reponsible Canadians.

In his view, one of the most amazing things about the whole experience is the way people came together to support the Syrians.

“The coming together of the various groups in Salmon Arm was astounding,” he says, describing how he’s never seen a group of individuals, two Rotary clubs and 11 churches work on anything together like they did.

Nine sponsoring groups had at least 20 volunteers each.

“So you’re talking 200 people.”

Related: Syrian families welcomed

The federal government required proof that the sponsoring groups were capable of raising the roughly $30,000 or more each family needed for sponsorships – meaning close to $300,000 was raised.

“So for a little town like this, that’s unbelievable.”

Ayotte says Shuswap Settlement Services has also been a huge support.

He has noticed that the federal government’s commitment to bringing in the refugees slowed substantially after the first 38,000 were admitted.

“I’d like to see Canada double the number of refugees. They have immigration quotas, but a lot are economic immigrants. If you show you have $300,000 to invest in a business, you go in a different line. I think we need some of that, yes, but we need to pay attention to those with the greatest need.”

And this need is the greatest.

“People are afraid of getting killed,” he emphasizes. “This is not people being afraid of getting diarrhea. This is people afraid of dying.”


@SalmonArm
marthawickett@saobserver.net

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Okanagan College ESL instructor Olia Bullen introduces Salmon Arm’s new Syrian residents during a presentation at the Salmon Arm campus for their Multicultural Day celebration. (File photo)

Just Posted

VIDEO: Wildfire erupts north of Sicamous above Shuswap Lake

Observers suspect fireworks sparked blaze, Wildfire BC states cause still unknown

Rapattack crew responds to small wildfire east of Salmon Arm, Sicamous

Three-person rappel crew dispatched to Joss Mountain

EDITORIAL: Improving highway safety

Highway 97 has seen plenty of collisions and accidents over the years

Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association: How accessible is your business?

TOTA launches video to encourage proprietors to remove barriers

Shuswap pet nutritionist and raw diet advocate to be in national magazine

Sicamous-based Deanna Larocque building reputation for canine support

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Police watchdog investigates Kamloops RCMP after stabbing death

The IIO is investigating the police’s lack of success in locating the man charged in stabbing

Forty-three properties near Dry Lake, along Highway 5A, under evacuation alert

Wildfire has been burning out of control north of Princeton for two days

Wildfire near Merritt creates smoke for drivers on Coquihalla

Coldwater River fire was estimated at seven hectares Aug. 3 and classified as out of control

BC RCMP notify IIO BC of incident involving police dog in Kelowna

A suspect and a police dog were taken to receive medical treatment after an incident on Aug. 1.

Alberta man presumed to have drowned after cliff jumping in Peachland

Emergency responders began rescue efforts at around 2:40 p.m. on Aug. 1.

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

Wildfire burning out of control at Dry Lake near Princeton

Hot, dry conditions affecting containment efforts

Most Read