‘They are people who need refuge’

LCSS hosts second meeting to help community prepare to welcome Syrian refugees

The Douglas Recreation Centre was once again packed on Jan. 28 as volunteers gathered for Langley Community Services Society’s second meeting to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis.

Although Langley has still not been named as an official refugee destination, LCSS has already welcomed its first Syrian family, and anticipates at least four more families will arrive soon.

The focus of the meeting was to explain who the refugees are and how sponsorship works in Canada, followed by a hands-on community asset mapping session.

Canada is the only country with a formal private sponsorship program to help refugees from around the world.

People who seek refuge in Canada include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Congolese, Burundians, South Sudanese, Somalis, Burmese, Colombians and LGBQT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning, transgendered) people, said Edward Shigali of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Currently, MCC is working on bringing at least 24 refugees to Langley from several different countries.

“The Syrian situation has brought a lot of awareness to the plight of people around the world, (but) we need to help all of the people who need help,” said Shigali, who came to Canada from Kenya in 1997.

Private sponsorship is a large commitment, he explained. Sponsoring groups are obligated to help the refugees for a full 12 months at a cost of about $12,600 per person, and $27,000 for a family of four. They must also provide social and emotional support, helping the refugees to fully integrate into their new communities.

Government-sponsored refugees by contrast are fully funded by the government. Blended visa office-referred refugees, meanwhile, are partly funded by the government, with private groups providing the rest of the support.

Many refugees also start their lives in Canada with government loans to pay for their transportation here. Only those from Syria have had their loans waived by the federal government.

“Let’s not forget that a lot is lost when we just talk about sponsorships and … remember that they are people, and people who need refuge,” Shigali said.

“They are people like us — like me and you — and in the end they are looking for community, for belonging. They’re looking for … a place to call home, and when we step back and think about those things it becomes a bit easier to engage in sponsorship.”

LCSS plans to host monthly meetings with its volunteers to continue the education and planning processes. For more information, visit www.lcss.ca or call 604-534-7921.

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