Salmon Arm will be putting out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees.
In early October, Brian Ayotte and Joyce Henderson held a meeting to see if there was support to bring between three and five Syrian families to safety and a new life in the Shuswap.
Ayotte says many people had been talking about bringing refugees to Salmon Arm throughout the community so he and Henderson called a meeting and contacted churches and non-church individuals.
“It was like the penny dropped; we started with 16 people at a meeting on Oct. 4 and at the third meeting, Nov. 15, we had 40 people.”
In the past month, several groups and individuals have eagerly committed to help make this happen. Churches include First United, St. John’s Anglican, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic, Lakeside Methodist, First Methodist, Deo Lutheran, Broadview E Free, Shuswap Community, Cornerstone Christian Reformed and the Mennonite Central Committee.
“That’s phenomenal; everyone is committed and enthusiastic,” said Ayotte. “The secular group includes individual citizens and Rotary. It’s quite a cross- section.”
First United, St. Joseph’s and several citizens have committed to take a family, says Ayotte. “It is very likely the rest of the members of the group will collaborate on two more families.”
He says there has been great input from Immigrant Services Shuswap, who will offer services to the refugees once they arrive.
“These refugees are victims also, and one of the lines that came in the discussion group was, ‘we’re not going to allow our compassion to be limited by fear,’ and to do that without being naive,” said Ayotte, noting they will be coming from one of the refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon where they have been well- vetted by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the UN High Commission for Refugees in terms of criminal records and status. “We’re going to be responsible, intelligent and compassionate, and the government has a very reliable process. That’s why we’re going through government.”
Ayotte says private sponsorship is possible but the process takes a lot longer, is more expensive and doesn’t have as good a screening process.
“We’re not taking people from this massive wave that has hit Europe,” Ayotte says. “Syria five years ago was not a have-not country, it was a progressive nation of well-educated people – many are university graduates, professionals or have a trade.”
Out of the population of 23 million, 12 million are either trapped in Syria hiding in the rubble, or they’re in neighbouring countries, he adds. There are 1.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon and 750,000 in Jordan.
“This is a crisis created by humanity, the worst crisis since World War 2,” says Ayotte, pointing out that 235,000 Syrians have been killed in the past five years since the civil war began. “The good thing is politicians have said, in reaction to the Paris disasters, that these people are also victims and bringing them to Canada reduces the growth of terrorism.”
Sponsors can view refugee profiles, which include a summary of employment status and a statement about why they need to leave their country – fear of death being the most common.
When the group is ready to accept refugees, members can go online and select candidates. The Canadian government has announced no single men will be accepted in the current 25,000 refugees being brought to Canada by the end of the year.
Government absorbs the cost of the screening process, transportation and health care, and a welfare-level financial subsidy.
The group needs to raise roughly $25,000 to support a family of four for one year.
“So, the sponsoring group has to find accommodation, which is a big challenge, furnish the accommodation, provide clothing for adults and children, transportation, introduction to schools and assist with the learning of English,” Ayotte says. “And it will be a huge cultural challenge for these people; it will be like they’ve landed on the moon.”
Diane Desrosiers at Immigrant Services Shuswap will help with a lot of that, says Ayotte, but the sponsoring group is looking to the community for support.
Anybody with accommodation, a one- or two-bedroom suite, is invited to call Immigrant Services Shuswap at 250-804-2726.
“Our second plea and also urgent, is to find someone who speaks Arabic,” Ayotte says, noting the school board and the Healthy Communities group will be advised of what is being planned. “Some of these people have probably been exposed to horrendous situations including rape and bombing.”
Ayotte takes issue with two commonly heard objections to bringing Syrian refugees to Canada – we should look after our own, and they’re terrorists who are going to kill us.
“But nobody in Canada is facing this and, as to the second objection, we have to make sure we don’t make them victims – victims of the terrorists and then victims of our own prejudice.”
The sponsoring group is interested in participating with Sorrento, Enderby and Sicamous.
“We will be asking for employment; our intent is to have these people functioning as independent citizens within 12 months,” he says. “But very often it only takes six months. They don’t intend to rely on the public purse.”
Anybody who wants to participate is invited to call Joyce Henderson at 250-832-4127, Pat Hutchins at 250-832-7242 or Brian Ayotte at 250-804-3431.