Imagine your home turned to rubble. Imagine your family in constant danger of being hurt or your children being caught in the middle of gunfire and mortar fire. Imagine not going to work for months or even years because the place in which you used to work is simply no longer there. Imagine your entire world, the life you’ve worked so hard for, laying in shattered pieces before you, the lives of your children in constant peril, and your ability to keep them safe , happy and fed completely taken away from you . These are the experiences of many of the refugees who come to Canada each year.
Syrian refugees have captured most of our attention these days, mostly due to extensive media coverage and the government’s efforts to bring as many into Canada as possible. It should, however, be noted that Canada has assisted refugees from all over the world over the past decades and our community has sponsored many over the years. There are two ways to enter Canada through its refugee program. Individuals can be sponsored by the government. They are known as Government Assisted Refugees. Individuals can also be privately sponsored by an organization, family member or what is known as a “group of five” (http://www.cic.gc.ca/ENGLISH/refugees/sponsor/index.asp). These are known as Privately Sponsored Refugees. It is mostly through private sponsorships that SECC expects to see refugee families settle in South Essex.
In an effort to pool resources and work together, SECC invited various church groups, interested individuals, and local service providers to a community information meeting on December 8, 2015. Based on the local interest in private sponsorship, it is possible that the Leamington and surrounding area could host 5-8 families. While this is exciting news, it does present some challenges for a small community in terms of resources. All of these families need homes. These homes need to be furnished. They need access to medical care and counselling services. Children need to be registered for school. They will need transportation to appointments and translation services. They will need language training and eventually employment support. Each sponsor will need to find volunteers to assist with a host of activities to integrate these families into the community. The focus of this meeting was to see how we can all work together and support each other. The group has decided to meet once per month to share information and resources. Already we’ve gained knowledge and ideas from the Leamington Area Ecumenical Refugee Committee, as well as housing information. We’ve also been able to secure a place to store furniture and other household items. Some groups are busy fundraising the $35,000 needed to sponsor a family, while others are awaiting their family’s arrival. The Faith Mennonite Church in Leamington received their family on January 11, 2016. They are settling in and beginning the journey towards integration and independence. Already friendships have been forged and the family is feeling the warmth and welcome of this community, especially its host church.
Unfortunately, community members involved in private sponsorship have also experienced negative comments, intolerance and fear from other members in the community. In an effort to dispel some of the myths and misinformation about immigration, SECC has put together an information sheet on the Myths of Immigration. It can be found on our website and we invite everyone to educate themselves on the realities of immigration in Canada and why it is important. Fostering understanding and encouraging self-education are ways in which we can further establish our community as a welcoming one.
The next meeting for this group will be taking place on February 9, 2016. We are pleased to host Ronnie Haidar from the Windsor Islamic Association and Dr. Ahmad Chaker of the Canadian Syrian Council, who will be presenting a workshop on Syrian culture and the Muslim faith. They will be providing some historical context, as well as some cultural training specific to Syrians. The workshop is open to anyone who would like to attend. SECC views this as another opportunity to learn and to grow as a community, and work collectively towards making our community a welcoming one for anyone who chooses to live here.
Although we do not yet have a venue for the meeting, interested participants are asked to RSVP by February 3, 2016 to Carolyn Warkentin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 519-326-8629 to register for the workshop. We will let people know the location of the meeting by the end of January.