A third group is hoping to bring refugees to the Parksville Qualicum Beach area this winter, but not from Syria.
“Given all the media in the last year, it would be impossible not to be aware of the dire needs of the refugees and their desperate drive to achieve a safe and more permanent place to live,” starts an e-mail from Ed and Lilian Mayne.
Lilian explained that they started looking into sponsoring refugees in the fall as the Syrian refugee crisis hit the news and then “We unexpectedly found ourselves with a vacancy in our rental properties in about mid-November.”
They had already been referred to the Mennonite Central Committee by Immigration Canada when their apartment became available “and we realized this was a great opportunity to do this,” she said of their plan to donate the accommodation.
As the lead sponsors, the couple teamed up with the Qualicum Community Baptist Church, which she said had already considered it “but they are quite limited in resources, so they weren’t sure it was viable.”
As they researched, she said they became concerned about a language barrier. “We are not a very diverse community. My concern was if we got refugees that spoke minimal or no English, how would we teach them English if we can’t find a tutor that speaks their language?”
She said they asked the Mennonite Committee if it was possible to sponsor refugees who spoke English “and that’s what led us to these two candidates, they are either fluent or have some grasp of English.”
The final applications have gone in, she said, and they now hope they are just a month or two away from welcoming the first two of three single men, coming from the small East African country of Eritrea.
“I had never heard of this part of Africa, the state, but when you start to read about it, we were shocked at the conditions. These two gentlemen are in quite as much need as anybody else.”
According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, in 2015 more than 40,000 Eritreans applied for asylum from government repression.
Mayne said they have experience with foreign workers as the owners of Tim Hortons in Parksville and that’s why they chose single refugees.
“When you’re young and single it’s so much easier to settle in and given that this is our first time we thought we would walk before we lead. We may consider a family in the future but this is what we’re most familiar with and we want to be able to set them up for success.”
As business owners, Mayne said, “We are in a position to be able to offer them immediate employment if they choose to work here, if they choose not to, not a problem. This is not an opportunity for us to employ people.”
She said this process has no connection to the foreign workers program and added that she is also the chair of the Career Centre in Parksville, which will help the refugees access tutoring, career counselling and all the other services the centre offers. She said one of the men is a high school teacher and the other is an auto mechanic.
There are currently two other local efforts relate to bringing refugees here, including the town of Qualicum Beach with St. Marks Anglican Church and the Church of Ascension in Parksville, both hoping to bring in Syrian families.
The Church of Ascension group has been focusing on fundraising, having raised $14,000 in their first few weeks.
Qualicum Beach town council is considering using a vacant town owned house and is hosting a town hall meeting on the subject this Monday, January 25, 4 to 6 p.m. at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.
Tony Davis, the regional refugee co-ordinator for the Anglican Diocese, said he is aware of at least 16 mid-Island sponsorship efforts, but that only includes efforts through the Anglican Church, or that he’s heard about second hand.
He encourages the groups to communicate and work together, to learn from and possibly help each other. He encouraged interested groups to attend the Qualicum Beach meeting to network.
Meanwhile, Lilian said they have been impressed with the community support.
“I’ve been really touched since circulating this e-mail. People have been beyond our expectations. I was a bit choked when I read the most recent one from a local teacher who’s class raised money at a Christmas fair and wants to donate half the money.”
She said the first two refugees are considered “travel ready,” meaning they have “been thoroughly screened and vetted, they have to go through medicals and security clearance, it’s quite an arduous process.”
They hope a third man will arrive a month or two later.
The group is looking for help with the expenses, averaging around $32,000 to $35,000 for the year, including accommodation. They need to cover food, furnishing, clothing and living expenses.
She said Ed’s band Eddy and the Funk may do a fundraising concert, but haven’t scheduled anything and are considering waiting and making it a welcoming concert for the refugees.
In December the B.C. government said they anticipate receiving up to 3,500 government-assisted Syrian refugees, for which they announced a $1-million provincial refugee readiness fund, $1.5 million in federal-provincial job grants and $2.6 million for language training including 30 interpreters for health care.
Anyone interested in helping the Mayne/Baptist Church effort can do so, including tax deductible donations, through the Qualicum Community Baptist Church (250-752-9123, 600 Beach Road, V9K 1K7) or the Parksville Tim Hortons. The Maynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.