While the government has matched its pledge of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, Prince Rupert is still working on bringing three families to the community.
The Rupert Syrian Refugee Support group organized an open house on Tuesday, March 15 to inform the public on their plans to sponsor and to appeal for donations. The challenge is getting the family to the North Coast. After the government met its quota by the end of February it put a ceiling on the number of refugees that can come into Canada.
Pastor Jim Whaley of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, has gotten involved to hasten the process by working with the Canadian Lutheran World Relief, which is a sponsorship agreement holder with the government and has decades of experience bringing refugees into the country.
“Our application has been placed into the urgent high priority pile to get through this government red tape,” Whaley said.
The group has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to resettle three families but the contact at Canadian Lutheran World Relief can only promise one — for the moment.
The group ensures that despite working with the Lutheran organization, it doesn’t have any religious affiliations. If they were to sponsor privately, it could take up to a year and a half to bring a family in.
Whaley said that they applied to the blended visa office-referred program (BVOR), a joint sponsorship between the government and private citizens where six months of the financial burden is shouldered by the government. The group applied more than a month ago, which is usually a faster method of bringing families to Canada.
“There is a backlog. There have been people who have been in refugee camps for 10 years who are waiting,” Whaley said.
In the meantime, the Rupert Syrian Refugee Support group is preparing the community for the first family’s eventual arrival. The open house provided information on why the group is looking for $20,000 per family, who is volunteering, what kind of furniture is needed and why help Syrians and not support local need.
“We live a life of freedom and security. We can offer the opportunity to a certain number of these desperate human beings to relocate to our community to establish lives for themselves… We know that they will in turn make a positive contribution to Prince Rupert,” read one of the pamphlets.
There has been some outreach in the past month. Two homes have been donated to allow the Syrian families to live rent free for a year. So far five people have contacted the in-kind donation committee, offering a gently used couch, chair and some kitchen wares. Northern Savings has provided storage space for more donated household items once they come in and there is an Arabic-language speaker at the NorthWest Community College, physics professor, Erfan Zahra’i, who is willing to help with any translations.
“I’ve been watching the news and I want to help,” said Ellen Witherly, a member of the fundraising committee. They have raised approximately $10,000 so far and have quite a ways to go before the families arrive.
Despite the bureaucratic barriers to getting three Syrian refugee families in the community the group has embraced their slogan, “We should, we can, we will.”
For more information on the group you can reach out to them through their Facebook page, Rupert Syrian Refugee Support, or email firstname.lastname@example.org