By Laura Stovel
This time last year the Syrian refugee crisis was leading the news. Every day, hundreds of Syrians attempted the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece in hopes of making a better future for themselves and their families. As the war in Syria raged, millions fled to neighbouring countries, especially Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Most remain there, waiting for peace or a chance to find a new home elsewhere in the world.
Communities across Canada, including Revelstoke, sprang into action. Concerned Revelstoke residents formed the broad-based group Revelstoke for Refugees and started fundraising to sponsor a family living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The Alliance Church generously agreed to be our Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), which meant that the Canadian government recognized them as credible sponsorship facilitators.
Revelstoke for Refugees fundraised more than $57,000. By February of this year the group had chosen to sponsor the Almastou family. Rakan Almastou, a construction worker, and his wife Mahdeya have four sons and a daughter, aged from two to nine. Kristina Welch and Reilly Geidt generously donated a suite in their home for a year and many people donated furniture or volunteered to help.
The federal government’s commitment to bring in Syrian refugees got off to an impressive start. Freshly elected in October 2015, the new Liberal government committed to bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. The Ministry of Global Affairs pulled out all the stops, seconding staff from its embassies and Ottawa offices to process refugees rapidly in Jordan. By the end of January the government’s ambitious target had been met, just one month late.
Since then, however, the ministry has slowed down processing Syrian refugees dramatically. A group called Canada4Refugees which formed because of the backlog in processing refugees like the Almastous who already have sponsors wrote an online article called Syrians go from ‘hero to zero’ in less than a year. The article stated:
“The government proposes to bring in 25,000 refugees in total in 2017. There are currently 25,394 Syrian refugee cases alone in the system, with new applications coming in by the hundreds each week. Stunningly, the government proposes no separate targets for Syrians or any measures to reduce the enormous backlog of Syrian cases in the system. That’s despite the ongoing war that continues to produce unprecedented numbers of refugees.”
When I wrote, as co-chairwoman of Revelstoke for Refugee, the SAH staff member earlier this month inquiring about the state of the application I was told that the process, once the government receives the application, is taking around ten months. Since the ministry received the Revelstoke application in July, he estimated that the Almastou family may arrive in May 2017.
In the meantime, Okanagan College has trained four English-as-a-Second-Language instructors who have volunteered to support the Almastou family and planning continues as the group waits for the family to arrive. Salmon Arm’s seven sponsorship groups have already welcomed 34 Syrian refugees and are expecting a total of 48. Their experience has been invaluable in guiding the Revelstoke-planning process.
This article begins a monthly insert in Okanagan College’s Settlement newsletter, All Together Now, with news and information relating to Syria, the Revelstoke sponsorship and the refugee crisis in general. Events and volunteer opportunities will be announced on this page. For more information or to be added to our e-mail list please contact Laura Stovel at firstname.lastname@example.org.