Q: Why should people know more about the sponsorship of Syrian newcomers?
A: First, the sponsorship committee wishes to celebrate all the wonderful people in Collingwood who have stepped forward with assistance. Not only will this be of direct help to our sponsored refugee families, it also confirms what many of us know, namely that Collingwood and surrounding communities (Blue Mountains, Wasaga Beach, Stayner, Clearwater, Maxwell) all form a welcoming community with an amazing capacity for reaching out.
People from across the region have donated money, furniture and household items. Individuals have volunteered their time to refinish furniture, pick-up and deliver items for the refugee families, spent time filling out forms and planning for their arrival. Schools have raised money and conducted clothing drives and people have been recruited to help teach English to the new arrivals.
Second, the committee wants to provide background information and education about the Syrian refugee problem, so people will find it easier to understand the situation of the families who are coming to Collingwood. A website has been developed (www.collingwoodsyriansponsorship.ca) to provide some background information and this will be updated as the situation changes. Other websites are listed, explaining the Syrian civil war and life experienced by Syrian refugees in their country, which can help us better understand the trauma being experienced. Members of the committee can also provide information and welcome input from fellow residents.
Q: Who will pay for their rent, food, and other expenses?
A: A portion of their expenses will be paid for by the federal government and the rest will be covered by the funds raised by the generous donors from the Collingwood area. We will cover the family costs for one year upon arrival and expect the families to be self sufficient after the first year. Furniture and household items have been donated by individuals and organizations in the area. Clothing will be collected as we learn the sizes of the family members.
Q: Will they have jobs?
A: Before they start working, the refugees will study English. Research has shown that newcomers integrate most successfully when they have good language skills. Therefore, in the first year, their focus will be on learning English, rather than looking for work. Employment will come later. Some local employers have stepped up and offered employmen opportunities, even as family members continue to become more proficient in English.
Q: Why are you helping newcomers when there are so many people here who need help?
A: Helping one doesn’t exclude helping the other. In fact, the more we try to help those outside our community, the more sensitive we become to helping those in need within our community. Giving and caring quickly become a habit. When there are people in need, our natural reaction is to help. We see that happening in the Collingwood area in the generous donations for the Syrian refugees, but also for the many other fundraising activities for local causes which often exceed expectations. People are used to giving and do so generously to so many causes. By working together with local organizations we are able to help many in need. Committing to helping newcomers is a relatively short-term need as people adjust to a new life in a safe place. Hopefully we will all learn from this experience to care more about all of those in need.
Q: Will the children go to school?
A: Yes, the children will start attending school, depending on when they arrive and depending on their English skills. Discussions have been held with the local schools regarding the best time for the children to start classes.
Q: How long will the refugees stay in Collingwood?
A: The Collingwood Syrian Sponsorship Committee has responsibility for providing for the family’s care and support for one year. After that the family is free to stay on in Collingwood or move somewhere else. Any items given to the family will remain theirs to take with them if they decide to move. If they stay, they are responsible for supporting themselves, with the help of their network of new community friends and support that’s already taking shape.
Q: How can local residents continue to help the Syrian family?
A: The one thing we can all do is provide a warm welcome – by smiling and saying “hello” we make others feel at home. It is important that we respect the privacy of the families who have been living in refugee camps under austere conditions for some time. It will take them time to adjust to the Canadian way of life, their new surroundings and to learn English.
Q: Is it OK to talk to the newcomers?
A: Yes, but it is important to respect their privacy. They may feel intimidated if they are surrounded by people eager to speak with them when they may not understand what is being said. Everything will be new to them and they will have lots to learn. For example, when they go grocery shopping, everything in our stores will be different. An offer to help may be appreciated, but it may not always be understood. We need to understand that it will take time before we can communicate fully with the families. The children will probably learn English first; playing with local children will help them learn even faster.
Q: If the family members don’t speak English how do we communicate with them?
A: Learning English will be an important focus for the newcomers. A team of teachers with special training in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has been assembled and is ready to volunteer their time to teach English. As well, some Arab speakers in the area have volunteered to assist with translation. Language apps for computers will also help us communicate as the family members learn English.
We’re fortunate to live in a country with immigrants whose English language skills are still developing. Many of us are used to communicating with people from other countries, and we’ll keep doing that when we meet the families from Syria.
Q: What is happening in Syria? Why do Syrians need help?
A: A civil war has made it difficult and sometimes impossible for Syrians to stay in their own country. Thousands upon thousands of Syrian citizens have left everything behind to seek shelter in other countries. Their homes have been destroyed and their way of life totally disrupted. These are ordinary people like us, but who have seen their lives torn apart by war. Many have witnessed family members, friends and neighbours killed in the war. If the war wasn’t continuing, they wouldn’t have left, however, there has been so much destruction, they may never be able to return. The situation is similar to the mass migration of many Eastern Europeans following World War Two, when Canada welcomed thousands of people who were displaced from their home countries.
Q: What exactly is a refugee?
A: This is the definition, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution.
There were 19.5 million refugees worldwide at the end of 2014. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as “refugees” with access to assistance from states, UNHCR, and other organizations. They are recognized as refugees precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences. We have all seen some of the harrowing experiences the people fleeing the war in Syria have endured in their attempts to get to a safe place. They would not be risking their lives if their homeland offered them the safety and security we enjoy in Canada.
Refugees are defined and protected in international law through the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 Refugee Convention. For more detailed information, visit: http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html. These international agreements, to which Canada is a signatory, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection. The legal principles they enshrine have permeated into countless other international, regional, and national laws and practices.
The protection of refugees has many aspects. These include safety from being returned to the dangers they have fled; access to asylum procedures that are fair and efficient; and measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected to allow them to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution. States bear the primary responsibility for this protection. UNHCR therefore works closely with governments, advising and supporting them as needed to implement their responsibilities.
Q: Aren't the refugees going to be a drain on society?
A: The refugees are screened before they arrive by Government of Canada Immigration specialists, but it is true they will need some help, be it language training, medical attention or other. Various professionals in the Collingwood area have offered their assistance, often on a gratuitous basis, in order to help with these tasks.
We expect that the newcomers will integrate just like others have done for generations in Canada. Yes, there will be challenges, but where would Canada be without its newcomers? Refugees make important contributions to society, for example, two recent Governor Generals were from refugee families - Adrienne Clarkson and Michaelle Jean. As well, songwriter and musician K’naan came to Canada as a refugee. After adjusting to living in a new land with different customs, the refugees will contribute to society in numerous ways – from paying taxes, to educating us about their country of origin, and maintaining Canada’s global role as a humanitarian country.
Read this insightful article that illustrates one recent refugee family's effort to give back by helping the fire victims of Fort McMurray.
Q: Why should my tax dollars go to support refugees?
A: Helping refugees is a small cost compared to the amount we could be paying if we left Syrians in the lurch. Conflict costs money and lives, and the more we can do to alleviate the problem now, the better off the world will be going forward. Most of the financial support for the local families has come from donations from people in the area.
When disaster strikes Canadian communities, we reach out to others across the country and offer help. Federal tax dollars go toward disaster relief. Do we begrudge paying for a community that is in trouble on the other end of the country because we are not directly impacted? No, we don’t. Compassion knows no borders, and a bit of help goes a long way. We know if Canada suffered some unthinkable disaster, people around the world would help us. The newcomers will have a chance to repay us when they themselves become taxpayers and helpful citizens who will give back when another relief operation is needed, locally, across the country or abroad.
Q: What benefit is there to Collingwood to have Syrian newcomers here?
A: Most Canadians are descendants of immigrants or newcomers themselves. People keep moving to Canada from all parts of the world, and they contribute immensely to the growth and strength of our country. Collingwood, just as any other community in Canada, benefits when new families move here. They will pay taxes, take part in community events, go to school and share their experiences which provide an ongoing education for resident children and their families. Without newcomers, the population of Collingwood would dwindle. Moreover, we need more children in our community – the more the better – to offset the growth of the retired population.
Q: Who do I contact if I have more questions about the Collingwood Syrian Sponsorship Committee?
A: The co-chairs, Tara Bailey (email@example.com) or Ruth Plant firstname.lastname@example.org will be happy to answer your questions at the email addresses indicated.