More than 100 people attended a meeting on Monday night in Qualicum Beach to explore the possibility of hosting a Syrian refugee family.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek welcomed everyone, pointing out there would be many ways for people to get involved, utilizing their specific skills. He said that if you divided the 25,000 Syrian refugees the federal government plans to bring to Canada this winter, equally among the population, Qualicum Beach would get about five.
Town planner Luke Sales remarked on the impressive turn-out at the meeting and set the wider context.
“Right now there are approximately 19.5 million refugees that have been displaced from their homes throughout the world… of those approximately 100,000 will be resettled in other countries. Although refugees are in the forefront of the news right now due to the crisis in Syria, Canada does have a long history of helping refugees,” Sales said, explaining refugees peaked at 60,000 in 1980 (mostly Vietnamese people) and have averaged about 10,000 a year for the last 25 years.
Town council’s focus was on whether there was an appetite from the community to donate the use of a town-owned house on Sunningdale Road for a year, while they continue to look for a long-term use for the house.
“This would be a place for (a refugee family) to land on their feet, get settled in and get to know Canada before moving on to a more permanent accommodation,” Sales said. “The town’s role is to set the table for discussion so that people and interested organizations that want to be a part of this can come together, meet each other, and they can be the leaders in advancing this initiative. The town won’t be taking the lead in all the administrative and support services required to successfully settle a refugee family. There are many different challenges we will have to work through along the way,” Sales summed up, “and we will need many hands on deck for this to be successful.”
He introduced Tony Davis, the regional refugee coordinator for the Anglican Diocese who is involved with 16 sponsoring groups between Duncan and Campbell River. Davis explained the sponsorship process, pointing out that virtually everyone in the country is an immigrant in some way, whether they or their ancestors came to Canada.
“A refugee is in exile, which is very different than being a migrant,” said Davis.” A refugee comes here because they are in danger.”
He said that before the current Syrian crisis, refugees often spent six or seven years in camps before they arrived in Canada.
He said the UN estimates 2.3 million people need resettling in 2016, but that people in need only have a 0.5 per cent chance of successfully being resettled.
The Qualicum Beach initiative, like the other mid-island groups Davis is familiar with, would be a private sponsorship, separate from the proposed 25,000 government sponsored refugees, adding that Canada is the only country in the world with a private sponsorship program, the federal government paying all the expenses everywhere else.
Many of the local sponsoring groups are hoping to achieve a “blended referral” sponsorship, meaning the government would pay half the costs.
The audience also heard from a former refugee directly and the evening ended with groups gathering at tables to network and begin solidifying a “constituency group” that would be the official sponsors, if the process goes ahead.
Town council will decide whether to donate the use of a town-owned house for the year the group would be responsible for supporting the family.