Groups prepare to host more Syrian families

Community Featured

NEW GLASGOW — More Syrian families could be coming to Pictou County.

Two groups that have sponsored families already living in the county — Pictou County Safe Harbour through Trinity United Church in New Glasgow and Communities Assisting Refugees Now (CAiRN) through Pictou United Church — have an opportunity to welcome more families to the area.

The CAiRN group has agreed to sponsor two families under these circumstances, while Safe Harbour is prepared to host up to five families. Trinity United’s congregation unanimously approved the measure during a special meeting last Sunday.

Members of the families being resettled are being processed for their trip to Canada as soon as possible due to the hazardous work they have been doing in Syria.

The families could arrive in a matter of weeks. They will receive federal funding, as well as financial support from other groups and individuals.

“We reached out to the federal government approximately a month ago, after hearing about the situation of the Syrian White Helmet families who were rescued in late July,” Safe Harbour spokesperson Sarah MacIntosh said. “We encouraged the government to consider resettlement of families in rural communities as well, and offered to have a discussion with them if there was a chance for us to provide assistance. At that point, we did not have any funds raised for sponsorship, but we knew from our group’s previous experiences resettling families that there is something special that rural communities can offer in the resettlement process — it can be a much more personalized and welcoming settlement experience than is sometimes available to families settling in urban centres.”

MacIntosh related how the federal government shared information with Safe Harbour regarding a funding source for the families coming to Pictou County called the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program.

“The government shared with us that a BVOR fund had been established with the University of Ottawa Refugee Hub and several other partners (including Jewish Family Services, the Shapiro Foundation), to cover sponsorship fees that would normally need to be fundraised by groups like ours,” she said. “As a result, the funding required to sponsor these families for a 12-month period is being provided through a cost sharing program that is entirely covered by this BVOR Fund and the federal government.”

Trinity United Church, together with Pictou County Safe Harbour and its volunteers, will be responsible for assisting with the families’ day-to-day resettlement needs, she said.

MacIntosh also described a related component devised to help Syrian families in Pictou County. She said local donors and donor groups are willing to invest in building community infrastructure and programming for the families.

“We are also in discussion with provincial and federal government about potential investment in this programming need as well,” she said. “We are optimistic that we will be able to secure funding sufficient to hire a full-time resettlement services co-ordinator to assist the families, and also to put funds towards enhanced language training and employment skills programming.”

The Nova Scotia Community College, the Multi-Cultural Association of Pictou County and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) are among community partners who have stepped forward to help.

“It is a real opportunity for us to build our community’s capacity — not just to welcome these families, but to support the needs of other newcomer families and community members looking to enhance their language and employment related skills,” she said.

Safe Harbour is also working to secure housing for families that will locate in the area.

From left: Safe Harbour members Jim McKenna and Sarah MacIntosh stand with Rev. Donna Tournier at Trinity United Church. The congregation unanimously endorsed Safe Harbour’s bid to host up to five more Syrian families in the near future. (Goodwin photo)