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Support still needed for refugee sponsorship group

Three refugee families have come to Canada with the help of St. Albertans, and more could be on the way.

But to make that happen, help is needed.

Judy Evans co-chairs a community refugee project based out of St. Albert United Church along with church member Helen Arnott. Evans told council Dec. 12 that the group is working hard to raise $30,000 to $40,000, the amount they expect sponsoring a family will cost. They are still well short of the mark.

“We’ve raised over $10,000 or more; I think we’ve had a couple more thousand come in in the last week or so,” she said.

She explained that in early 2016, several community members got together to see if there was a willingness and ability to help. By June they had decided to move forward with sponsoring a family through the United Church of Canada, which is a sponsorship agreement-holder with the federal government.

And in the event the group is able to sponsor a family to come to Canada, Evans said she’s skeptical that the one year of support suggested by the federal government will be enough.

“It really does take more than a year to assimilate into society and become part of our society,” she said.

She asked council to consider supporting the organization. City sponsorship was not discussed at that meeting, but councillors do have individual budgets of $250 each to contribute to organizations within the city.

Meanwhile, the refugee families already living in St. Albert are said to be doing well.

Wendy Hoven, the refugee committee chair at Holy Family Catholic Parish, said the two families they’ve sponsored are settling into this community.

“They’re reasonably well-established now in St. Albert. We have one full-time job, and the other three parents have part-time jobs,” she said. “And the kids are all doing well in school.”

She said the challenges her group is facing don’t have to do with the amount of money in the bank – there’s enough money in the bank to sponsor another family – but rather with government delays and volunteer coordination.

What’s needed is someone from the parish to step up and head the refugee committee. After spending close to an hour a day organizing things for the two families who have already moved into St. Albert, Hoven said she hopes to take a step back.

In the meantime, however, there are other families waiting to get into Canada, relatives of those already in St. Albert, who are mired in delays.

“The wheels of bureaucracy are really, really slow,” she said. “It’s been a long-time waiting, and we don’t know how much longer we’re going to have to wait.”

Hoven said there’s one family from Iraq who fled to Turkey and has been waiting for the go-ahead to come to Canada for close to one year.

She said she would also ask residents to write letters to government officials about the transportation fee some refugee families are charged.

The 25,000 refugees brought to Canada as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise weren’t charged the fee, but others could be on the hook for as much as $2,000 per person once they’re settled.

“I don’t think it’s fair for any refugee,” Hoven said. “They come with nothing.”

A third St. Albert group sponsoring refugees is reporting it has everything it needs, and the process is moving along smoothly.

David Woloshyn, chair of the refugee committee at the St. Albert Catholic Parish, said the family his church is sponsoring has settled in Edmonton and has everything they need.

“They’re in their new home in Edmonton, and we have a group of very committed and passionate parishioners who are providing support for them,” he said.

While that family is slowly acclimatizing to Canada, there is a support network from the church that has worked to get them their Alberta Health Care, their Social Insurance Numbers, government-issued identification and other essentials for living in this country.

Hoven said none of the Syrian refugee families living in St. Albert wanted to speak with the St. Albert Gazette or have photographs taken, citing safety concerns for relatives still living in Syria.

Doug Neuman: