Refugees to arrive in coming weeks

The southern tip of Eritrea borders Ethiopia. Valemount’s refugee family sought refuge in Kenya, whose northern tip also borders Ethiopia. / GOOGLE MAPS

by EVAN MATTHEWS

The process took almost a year-and-a-half, but Valemount’s first refugee family is soon to arrive. Though, they won’t be coming from Syria.

A 25-year-old mother and her seven-year old son are expected to arrive in the next one to three months, according to the Valemount Learning Centre’s (VLC) Literacy Coordinator, Jared Smith, though he notes “from experience” the wait could be longer.

“Though we did not achieve our initial goal of sponsoring a Syrian family, I believe this family needs our help as much as any refugees who have been forced to flee their homes and countries for fear of violence and persecution,” says Smith.

“Thank you for your overwhelming support on this sponsorship project,” he says.

Whether Valemount would get a refugee family at all has been in question, as the initial goal was to sponsor a Syrian family. Canada’s admittance of Syrian refugees slowed in February after the government met its goal of bringing in 25,000 refugees. 

The refugee family originally hails from Eritrea, though they’re currently residing in Kenya. Both are African countries.

Eritrea’s southern border touches Ethiopia’s north, and political and military tension is rising between the two countries. Upward of three per cent of Eritrea’s total population has fled the country, originally reported by the Guardian, as much of the country’s population is being forced into indefinite military service.

Kenya’s northern border meets Ethiopia’s south, and the country is currently more politically and militarily stable than Eritrea.

The pair’s Blended Visa (BVOR) case summary says the mother has a Grade 4 education. Her husband disappeared a few years ago. “If he were to be located, she would like him to join her in the country of resettlement. In her home country, she was persecuted based on her ethnicity and she will appreciate the assistance of the sponsor in Canada.”

VLC will be working with the mother and son to provide literacy training and counseling.

Whether Valemount would get a refugee family at all has been in question, as the initial goal was to sponsor a Syrian family. Canada’s admittance of Syrian refugees slowed in February after the government met its goal of bringing in 25,000 refugees. Canada’s Federal Immigration Minister told media at the time that Canada’s focus would be shifting to helping refugees find permanent homes, jobs and/or literacy courses.

Valemount had initially been matched with a Syrian refugee family — a young couple and their baby — but shortly after the match the family was re-routed to be closer to family members already in Ontario.

Smith said at the time he understood the importance of matching centre’s rationale, and he supported the IRCC decision.

The BVOR program requires a group of five people or more — or an organization like VLC — to raise roughly half the anticipated living expenses for the sponsored refugees first year in Canada. The group is also required to set up a support system for the refugees to help them integrate into Canadian life.

Donations have poured in to VLC — roughly $17,000 in cash and in-kind donations — and of course, pledged volunteer hours.

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