South Okanagan looks to respond to Syrian crisis

Summerland residents met last week to discuss how to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Summerland residents met last week to discuss how to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

A meeting, organized by Coun. Doug Holmes, drew more than 80 people. Holmes said Canada accepts 250,000 immigrants annually, including 25,000 refugees.

“Canada has a long history of taking in refugees,” he said.

While the country has accepted many refugees in past years, the Syrian refugee crisis is unique in its scope. Roughly nine million have been forced to flee their homes and 4.3 million are registered as refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“It’s the biggest refugee population from a single conflict since Vietnam,” he said.

In March of this year, Summerland United Church sponsored the Albetar family from Syria. David Sparks, co-chair of the church’s sponsorship committee, said the community was generous and supplied donations to help the family.

“It takes a whole committed group of people to make sponsorship work, and from time to time group members have been hard pressed to meet the demands. It isn’t always easy,” he said.

Since the Albetar family arrived, members of the church’s sponsorship committee have met with 10 other groups interested in sponsoring refugees. He urged others to consider sponsoring Syrian families.

“Summerland is a small community with a big heart,” he said. “May it also prove to be a welcoming community to several more refugees and refugee families from Syria.”

Three Catholic parishes in Summerland and Penticton are also working to sponsor a refugee family.

Mary-Anne Smirle, chair of communications for the Catholic sponsoring committee, said the three churches — Holy Child Catholic Church in Summerland, St. Ann Parish in Penticton and St. John Vianney Parish in Penticton — have already been matched with a family of four from Syria.

At present, the family’s application is in process.

“We don’t know when they’ll be arriving,” she said.

The cost of sponsorship for this family is $27,000 for the year. The three parishes raised this amount in less than four weeks, Smirle said.

Those present at the meeting expressed interest in sponsoring additional refugees. A steering committee, headed by Dan Dinsmore, will examine sponsoring a family to Summerland.

Eight of those present at the Summerland meeting expressed interest in serving on the committee.

The Naramata Community Refugee Support Initiative held its first information session on Dec. 8 on the project aiming to bring Syrian refugees to Naramata.

The board of the United Church recently voted to offer up the Naramata Centre as housing for up to four small refugee families relocating to Canada for four to six months.

A handful of new Syrian refugees have arrived in B.C. in recent days and around 30 more are expected by the end of this week, according to Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

Incoming refugees land initially in Montreal or Toronto and may spend a night or two at a military base before flying to British Columbia.

 

 

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