April 6th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 14
Locals are working to bring Syrian refugees to the Pass
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Syrian refugee children
Pass Herald Reporter
It’s taken more than five years but the consequences from the Syrian Civil War might be arriving in the Pass by the end of this summer.

A group of Crowsnest Pass residents have started a project called Crowsnest Friends of New Canadians with the goal of sponsoring one or two Syrian refugee families to move to the community.

Spokesperson Brian Gallant said the group was inspired by the tragic events unfolding in Syria, which has been locked in a deadly civil war since 2011.

“We think it’s important to reach out to these families and help where we can,” said Gallant. “From a moral standpoint, I feel it’s the right thing to do. We really have a chance to be on the right side of history here and make a difference.”

Since November 2015, about 70 residents have joined Crowsnest Friends of New Canadians. They’ve partnered with St. Luke’s Anglican Church to expedite the sponsorship process. Under the sponsorship agreement, the sponsorship holders would be financially responsible for the refugees for a minimum of one full year.

Gallant said the group has raised about $15,000 of the almost $24,000 required to bring over a refugee family. The group is still looking for sponsors. Residents can also make non-monetary donations by supplying furniture, household necessities or pledges to help the family navigate an unfamiliar community when they get here.
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“Just being there to support them, welcome them to the community and to really make them feel at home,” said Gallant. “They’re coming out of a bad situation and this community can be really warm and friendly.”

Every few weeks the group gets a list from the Anglican Diocese of Calgary of Ready to Travel Refugees.

The highest risk individuals including marginalized minorities, single parent families or those with good documentation are given priority.

Communities across Canada have been snapping them up at a rapid rate.

The government is having a hard time bringing enough refugees to fill the number of groups that want to sponsor families,” said Gallant. “We got a list two weeks ago with about 15 different families. They were all spoken for within an hour.”

Group member Lynette Jessop said she’s helping with the cause because she feels it’s the right thing to do.

“There’s a humanitarian crisis going on,” she said. “And the more people pull together, the better chance these people will have of pulling through.”

Jessop said she would like to get the whole community involved in the project. She would like to involve schools, clubs and businesses in initiatives to help and learn from the refugees. The group would also like to hold an open house on the project at some point.
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It’s expected the refugees will need English language training. The group has already contacted a Pass resident who is fluent in Arabic. When they arrive, the refugees receive Landed Immigrant Status. The group has found a small home for the family in Blairmore.

From a security perspective, Gallant said the refugees undergo an intense screening process before they arrive in Canada. Gallant has traveled extensively in the Middle East and believes Western media has misrepresented its people.

“There’s a sense that they’re somehow different from we are. But the people I was meeting are no different from you or I,” he said. “They want to have a safe home, food, security and they want to take care of their families. When I heard about the crisis in Syria, it really moved me because I’d met so many kind people over there.”

Gallant also said welcoming Syrians would be a continuation of the Crowsnest Pass’ long history of welcoming immigrants, whether Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, or other ethnicities.

International aid agencies suggest that the Syrian conflict is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The United Nations estimates over 250,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and that 4.8 million refugees have fled to surrounding countries while 6.6 million others are displaced within Syria. About half of refugees are children.

Last year, the federal government pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees through government and private sponsorships. According to media reports, a plane carrying the 25,000th Syrian refugee arrived in Montreal on Feb. 27.
April 6th ~ Vol. 85 No. 14
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