Carol Low-Hakaway, Bridget Fairhurst, Former Church of the Ascension pastor Father Karam Alraban, Sandi Digras, Jack Chambers, Richard Atnold, Dennis Belliveau, Joan Shackley and Dale Niwa are part of the Church of the Ascension refugee sponsorship committee. The committee is helping to find a house for a family of three that will be arriving from Lebanon later this month. — Photo submitted by Sandi Digras

Iraqi refugee family arriving on Island

Catholic church in Parksville sponsoring family of three

After sponsoring a refugee family nearly three years ago, the Church of the Ascension in Parksville will finally get to welcome its newest family this month.

Sandi Digras, the church’s refugee committee president, said the family of three will be arriving at Nanaimo Airport on April 17.

“When one of our committee members, Jack Chambers… stood up (in church) and said, ‘Finally, our prayers are answered; they’re coming,’ everybody erupted into this ecstatic applause because it’s been hard on them, too.”

The family, consisting of husband Toma, his wife Sahar and their two-year-old daughter Angel, were sponsored by the church in 2015, Digras said.

She said that as a private sponsor, the church asked for a Christian family.

Being a private sponsor, she said, can take much longer than the government-sponsored program other local sponsorship groups have used.

“We were ready. We had the paperwork, we had the funds, it’s just the government bureaucracy is quite slow.”

But after meeting with Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns earlier this year, Digras said, the process came together quickly.

“We got to see him not more than two months ago and he got the wheels moving,” she said.

Digras said the committee was given a list of names of potential families by its former pastor Father Karam Alraban, who fled to Canada from Iraq in 2014.

Digras said the couple, who are both from Iraq, were living in a refugee camp in Iraq before escaping to east Lebanon.

She said Toma and Sahar, now in their mid-20s, were in high school when their villages were bombed.

“For a while, they were in a refugee camp in Iraq. That’s where they met; it’s sort of like a Romeo and Juliet story because the young couple didn’t know each other when they were living in Iraq, but in the refugee camp, they met and married. They then escaped the refugee camp to east Lebanon.”

RELATED: Local Catholic church leading effort to bring Syrian family

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After months of searching for a home for the family, Digras told The NEWS Wednesday that the committee found a suitable home for the family to move into immediately once they arrive on the Island.

Digras said the volunteers will be busy decorating the home and getting it ready next week.

“When the family arrives, if they can give a permanent address as to where they’re living, that goes on their immigration application and then that doesn’t require us later having to go and give another address once we move them in,” said Digras, adding there is an understanding the family may need to stay a week in a local resort.

The government, she said, gives guidelines for budgeting purposes when it comes to renting a home for the newcomer families.

“As you well know, living in this area, those guidelines are unreasonable,” she said. “We can subsidize this in the first year, but it’s not encouraged because if that happens, then in month 13 when they have to pick up their own tab, if we’ve got them in something that’s unaffordable, they are faced with having to move.”

The committee, Digras said, is still looking for drivers for ESL (English as a second language) classes in Nanaimo.

People who know of potential accommodation, or can help with volunteering, are asked to contact Digras at 250-954-1991 or sjdigras@gmail.com.

Send story tips: lauren.collins@pqbnews.com

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