By Laura Stovel
Imagine living in a country so devastated by war that more than half the population has fled their homes. Imagine that there is no safe ‘side’ in the war, where if your loved ones have been taken by police it is not even safe to ask where they are.
In Syria, much of the population is caught between a rock and a hard place. The government is notorious for torturing, killing, ‘disappearing’ and using chemical weapons on the population. The main forces fighting them are those of ISIS whose members orchestrated the recent bombings in Beirut and Paris. And then there is the bombing by forces of the US-led coalition (including Canada), France and Russia.
In such a situation, most people who flee their homes – especially the poorest – remain within the country or go to neighbouring states. It takes money and other resources to pay for transportation and smugglers to go to Europe. In Syria, more than seven million people are displaced within their own country and most of those who flee to neighbouring states – Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey – remain there, causing enormous strain on those governments and societies.
The small country of Lebanon, with a population of just four and a half million (including earlier waves of Palestinian refugees) is hosting at least 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees – equal to a quarter of the population. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered four million Syrian refugees and estimates that there at least one million more who are unregistered.
Over the past several months, hundreds of thousands of Syrian and other refugees and migrants have made their way to Europe, often making dangerous boat trips across the Mediterranean Sea. It was this wave of refugee migration that drew concentrated international media attention. Although Europe has only received a fraction of Syrians fleeing their homes, governments and organizations are scrambling to provide much-needed support, often feeling overwhelmed by the numbers.
If there ever was a time to reach across the globe and help, this is it.
The Revelstoke initiative
A group in Revelstoke is doing just that. The broad-based group, called Revelstoke for Refugees, has formed to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Led by Rana Nelson and composed of three church ministers, City employees, and many active community members, Revelstoke for Refugees is launching a campaign to raise the $60,000 needed to support a family in Revelstoke and support them once they arrive.
Nelson explained her reasons for starting this effort. “I feel blessed every day to live in Canada in general and Revelstoke in particular, a safe, free and caring community. As a mother of three children myself, I see the events in Syria as an opportunity to help other families be able to raise their kids in the environment we are all so fortunate to live in.”
For Anglican minister Dan Meakes, “I think Revelstoke would benefit from the project because we get a chance to be part of the world that’s far, far away. People that have become imprisoned and have suffered from the conflict in the world get a chance to share with us and we benefit from seeing the world as much bigger than the ski hill or the last party we went to.
As people hoping to privately sponsor a family, Revelstoke for Refugees needs to navigate the refugee and immigration process. This is made much easier by working with a group that already has a special agreement with the federal government to bring in and support refugees. Several churches are Special Agreement Holders (SAHs). Revelstoke for Refugees is working with the Alliance Church and its Christian and Missionary Alliance office in Toronto to help in the process of sponsoring a family.
The screening process for refugees is rigorous. Most refugees will come from refugee camps in the region – in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. All will have been screened by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR will forward its list of refugees to potential host governments and they will be screened again by, in our case, the Canadian government. Only after this screening will refugee names be put on a visa office referral list.
“Screening for refugees is higher than for any other immigration process, including for those applying for visitor visas” said Serena Richardson, the SAH representative for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. The list prioritizes those who are considered most at risk: large families; single-parent families and single women.
In the next few months, Revelstoke for Refugees will be appealing to Revelstoke businesses and residents for support. Donations can be given to the Revelstoke Community Foundation, Syria Refugee Project, through the Revelstoke Credit Union, the Revelstoke Visitor Centre or online through the Community Foundation link at the Canada Gives website. For more information, please contact Revelstoke.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow the group’s Facebook site (Revelstoke for Refugees) where information relating to the campaign will be posted.