Preparing for refugees

Arrivals: More families expected in coming weeks. Members representing the much larger community committee met last Thursday

Stocking up: Darlene Ogilvie

Stocking up: Darlene Ogilvie

Compassion, care, concern – three words that describe the manner in which members of the steering committee for the Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition are preparing for Syrian refugees.

Members representing the much larger community committee met last Thursday to provide updates on the activities of their own groups and discuss matters of concern to the group as a whole.

Salmon Arm’s first Syrian refugee, Mustafa Zakreet, earned high praise for his willingness to learn and enthusiastic interest in helping the groups and other refugees when they arrive.

“We’re anxiously waiting for Mustafa’s father and brother and have also applied to bring over one of his brothers, who has a wife and young child,” said Joyce Henderson, one of some 35 members of Zakreet’s sponsoring group.

First United Church is still waiting for their family but, knowing there are young children, held a highly successful baby shower.

“Between 35 and 40 people attended and they were very generous,” said First United co-coordinator Darlene Ogilvie, noting the group is looking for gently used car seats. “We served some traditional Syrian snacks – hummus, labal, baba ganoush, halva, pita, dates, figs, dried apricots and peppermint and anise teas.”

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church has seen a significant change in their plans to bring a family from Lebanon through the private process.

The Franciscan priest in Lebanon who has been helping to facilitate the process to bring Syrian families to Canada advised Brian Ayotte that the translator had included one family member on the family application who is 19 and must therefore have a separate application.

“It appears the oversight will delay the family’s trip to Canada by several weeks,” said Ayotte, noting that at the present time, private sponsorships are being processed more slowly than the federal BVOR (Blended Visa Office Referred), which have the same stringent screening.

In the meantime, Ayotte got a call asking if St. Joseph’s would like to take on a family through the government process, something parishioners readily supported.

The government-sponsored family includes a 34-year-old petroleum engineering professor, his wife in her early twenties, a two-year-old and a six-month-old.

“We expect them in three to four weeks and the other family in four to six months,” said Ayotte.

Some groups know who their families are but have no idea when they will arrive. And, according to Zakreet, the refugees have no idea where they are going until they are on the plane to Canada.

Other group reps provided updates on when they expect their families and where they are in terms of housing, furnishings, clothing and other concerns.

A church coalition including Broadview/Lakeside/Crossroads knows who their family is as does Shuswap Rotary.

Deo Lutheran, Shuswap Community Church and Cornerstone (Christian Reformed) have agreed to take a family but don’t yet know who they are.

Mike Boudreau said the data base he set up is being under-utilized.

“One of the real powerful things that isn’t being used is the ‘Contact Us,’” said Boudreau, noting anyone can visit, contact any of the groups and apply to volunteer or to donate a variety of needed items.

Criminal checks will be required for any volunteer who will be working with children.

Ayotte reminded the group that the bank account now established at SASCU is not to support refugees in their everyday lives (which is covered by the support groups) but rather as a reserve for such events as major dental work, funerals or hearing aids.