by LAURA KEIL
As winter arrives in Northern B.C., many people are turning their thoughts to the many Syrian refugees facing a harsh winter in tents in the hills of Lebanon and elsewhere.
Syrian families sponsored by small communities will be arriving in the coming months, and a meeting in McBride hopes to gauge the interest of hosting a family in the Robson Valley.
A letter penned by Councillor Rick Thompson invites local people to attend a meeting Nov 26th at 7pm at the Village office. The letter, entitled “Do we have the capacity, compassion and courage to sponsor or host Syrian refugees in McBride?” states this meeting “is not a commitment to proceed with hosting but is to determine if we have the capacity locally to qualify as a host community and to share information with interested individuals.”
Already a number locals have been discussing whether help could be provided in McBride. It has sparked several heated threads on the McBride Discussion Board. Those in support have outlined their compassion and our responsibility to fellow humans in distress. Those against have pointed out concerns for the refugees’ welfare, the current lack of jobs and the town’s capacity to meet their needs.
In the letter, Thompson says there are many questions that need to be addressed
“These questions can only be answered if individuals with power of authority sit together to determine if we as a community even have the capacity (the resources, the support services, the infrastructure, training and access to long term job and employment) to host a family or families to McBride. If it is determined that we have the capacity, then the discussion can focus on whether we have the compassion and courage to proceed with an application to host.”
The letter says that to facilitate the discussion around capacity, a meeting will be held with community leaders, school officials, church leaders, hospital staff and administration, support services organizations, emergency service organizations, municipal and regional district officials to mention a few, as well as any community members who can help provide advice on our capacity to host refugees.
Communities like Clearwater, Jasper and Smithers have all launched an effort to sponsor a family.
Any community association or group of five or more Canadians can sponsor a refugee. The sponsor is responsible for supporting the refugee(s) emotionally and financially for six months of the first year. That includes ensuring they have housing, clothing and other necessities of life.
An recent article in the Fitzhugh in Jasper reveals the refugees assigned to Jasper: Hassan El Azem, a 64-year-old civil engineer; his wife, Omayea Elmarawi, 60, a teacher and their daughter Reham Al Azem, 30, who graduated from Damascus University in Syria in 2009, and worked as a lawyer at the Syrian International Islamic Bank until April 2015.
To sponsor this family, a Jasper community member first approached St. Mary & St. George Anglican Church to ask if they would support a refugee family, which they did. Then she approached the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, which has been sponsoring refugees for more than 30 years. They then examined the applicants available to sponsor.
Planeloads of Syrian refugees are expected to begin landing in Canada next week, with companies like Air Canada volunteering to help shuttle. Many of these refugees are sponsored by the government, not by private groups. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is still aiming to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the year’s end, and that number will be a mix of private sponsorships and those solely government aided.
The refugees prioritized for Canada are ones already vetted by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and who have been living in Lebanon for some time. The government has said it will prioritize families with children and gay men. It means men who may have lost their entire families won’t be on the first planes out.
Proponents of private sponsorships say it can aid a family’s integration into a community, as the family has a support network.