County families hope to sponsor Syrian refugees
SEAN CHASE/DAILY OBSERVER Lee Torvi, with the Upper Valley Presbytery, discusses how to sponsor a Syrian family during a public information session at Algonquin College Waterfront Campus Wednesday night.
With millions fleeing the civil war in Syria and the barbarism brought on by the Islamic State, some Renfrew County families and organizations are planning to receive refugee families seeking to escape the horrors of the middle east and settle in Canada.
The interest and the will to sponsor refugees was certainly apparent during an information session hosted by Project Welcome at Algonquin College Waterfront Campus where members of the public asked questions about what entails sponsorship.
The federal government suggests it could cost as much as $26,000 for a family of four to get settled with food, furniture, accommodations and the basic necessities of life. Organizers with Project Welcome, a grass roots, community-driven body of 70 members working diligently to bring families to the region by fundraising, collect furniture and facilitating the necessary paperwork, recommended groups of five families come together to sponsor a single refugee family.
In the Syrian conflict’s fifth year, millions of refugees are caught in alarmingly deteriorating conditions. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates most of the four million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt see no prospect of returning home in the near future, and have little opportunity to restart their lives in exile.
“Once they escape the danger, they hope they can go back but sometimes they can't said,” Lee Torvi, a member of Upper Valley Presbytery, the umbrella group of United Churches in the Upper Ottawa Valley, said the time is now to open Renfrew County up to bringing in refugees. “There is a huge need across Canada for public education and we have to do a great deal to counter prejudice.”
Some have already taken the initiative. The group Valley Welcome, based in Killaloe, will be bringing a Syrian family to the area once they have been cleared by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. A conglomerate of eight churches in Arnprior is also working to sponsor a family. However, many expressed the opinion that Ottawa is taking too long to accept desperate families from these war zones.
“We are all immigrants,” said Mary Anne Schinkel-Venema, who sponsored Vietnamese boat people in the late 1970s allowing several families to settle here. “We can't believe it is taking our government so long to get on board. It's so callous.”
While there is the fear that refugees will take local jobs, it is largely unfounded, said Chela Breckon, project manager with the Local Immigration Partnership noting new Canadians between the ages of 25 to 40 will take entry level jobs, while another two-thirds will enroll in college or university to learn a profession.
“We know that every landed person from another country goes to pursue further education and filled the skilled labour shortage,” said Breckon. “We know they directly contribute to our economic development.”
“These people are survivors,” added Torvi. “They have the strength, the courage, the initiative to have made it.”
Sponsors will have to arrange for interim housing until the refugee family decides where they will settle. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will also be seeking a settlement plan that includes a budget, the type of housing for the refugees and other factors.
For information on Project Welcome check out their website at www.gofundme.com/projectwelcome. For information on Valley Welcome, check their Facebook site at facebook.com/valleywelcome.