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Still no refugees for Canada churches

24 June 2016


Settlement: Syrian refugees living in the Bekaa Valley, Lebaon

Settlement: Syrian refugees living in the Bekaa Valley, Lebaon

TWO churches in Canada waiting to resettle Syrian families have said that their frustration with the Canadian government is “minor in comparison to the anxiety” felt by the refugees.

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, promised to sponsor the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015 — a target that was achieved in February this year. Of these, 40 per cent are reported to have entered the country through private sponsorships run by churches, charities, and individuals, or a programme combining both private and government support.

But, in April, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Syrian Refugee Project, a programme led jointly by St Mark’s, and Grace United Church, in Ontario, complained that, despite being approved by the government in January, refugees had not arrived (News, 8 April).

Two months on, there is still no word from the government as to when — or if — the families will arrive, the chair of the project, Virginia Mainprize, said. “They wait, having escaped Syria in fear for their lives, and they are still uncertain about their future.”

Ms Mainprize has been in regular contact with a family of six, by email and Skype; the father, Faydalla, said that he and his wife and children fled to Turkey from Syria when fighting between rebel groups escalated.

In December last year, he had an interview with Canadian officials in Turkey, and was given an estimated arrival date into Canada for mid-February at the latest. “That is when we expected them to arrive,” Ms Mainprize said, “but since then very little has happened.”

The steering committee of the project has continued to push for answers through media interviews and letters to the Immigration Minister John McCallum, “but the response has been slow and often useless.”

The group has also been in contact with the Revd Scott McLeod of St George’s Anglican Church in Montreal, who, through his work with refugees, has tried to get answers from Ottawa, Canada’s south-eastern capital. “It seems, now that there may be the beginnings of movement on our family’s final paperwork,” Ms Mainprize said.

Meanwhile, the family’s host, St Mark’s, has been “agonising” over what to do with a three-bedroom house in the area that it has been renting — paid for by donations from parishioners — since mid-February, and which is still unoccupied.

“We are hoping and praying that the family’s applications may be processed this summer, and that the family will be able to come to Canada very soon, thereafter,” Ms Mainprize said.

The committee is now planning for a “possible shortfall” in cash due to wasted rent and its having sent funds to rebuild Fort McMurray, a remote oil town devastated by wildfires (News, 13 May).

“Syrian refugees who have made it to Canada have shown that they know what it is to lose a home, and stepped up to help the families of Fort McMurray,” she said. “Our family wrote us to express their sorrow over the fires and the evacuation of people. Even though they have waited since January for their promised journey to Canada, they remain concerned for the country they want to call home.”

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