Wednesday, 28 February 2018 14:47

Ministerial committee makes a difference to refugee families in Swift Current

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The Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association (SCAMA) Refugee Committee continues to provide support to a number of refugee families in the city and the group is preparing to sponsor another family to come to Swift Current.


SCAMA Refugee Committee spokesperson Tammy Israelson said they are hoping to again help a family through the federal government's Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. It matches refugees identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency with private sponsors in Canada. The federal government provides up to six months of income support and private sponsors are required to provide another six months of financial support.

“We need to have a certain dollar value before we can go ahead and say we're ready for a family,” she explained. “So right now we're in the fundraising stage of that, and we're definitely excited about helping another family.”

The SCAMA Refugee Committee has gained significant experience over the past two years in sponsoring and supporting refugee families. It sponsored the Alrahhal family from Syria, who arrived in July 2016. The financial support under the terms of the BVOR Program for this family of 13 has been successfully completed.

“So our group isn’t in charge of providing them with monthly funds,” she said. “Of course we still help them in other ways that we can, but as far as providing those finances, it isn’t part of the arrangement anymore.”

Members of the family have been attending English language classes to improve their language skills, which will assist them with the transition in their new community.

“They're taking English classes at the college, and there's been great progress from where they were when they first got here,” Israelson mentioned. “Each individual is different as far as what level they're at right now, but I think that's one of the biggest hindrances of them integrating into society is that learning English and being able to communicate, but the kids have been doing really well in school.”

The family started a catering enterprise that specializes in authentic Middle Eastern food and members of the family have also found employment.

“The older boys are working and going to school, but when there's a weekend or evening shifts, they contribute to the family that way,” she said. “So that's been good, and we're proud of the boys and their hard work.”

The committee's goal is not only to just bring refugees to Swift Current, but to stand with them and to provide them with ongoing support as they make the transition to become economical immigrants who contribute to the economy and the community.

During the past year two other refugee families, both originally from Syria, came to Swift Current. They have not been formally sponsored by the SCAMA Refugee Committee, but the committee has been providing them with some support to assist them to settle in the community.

The one family of nine people came to Swift Current from Ontario in the summer of 2017. They decided to move here because their children did not receive enough immersion into English language training where they lived before.

“They’re doing really quite well,” she said. “All their kids are doing great in school and we’re not financially helping them much at all. We helped them move, they had to change residences a few times, but as far as month to month support, that’s not what we’re doing. It's more that they need some household items and we can link them with MCC or request those items from the people that have been supporting us with household items and that kind of thing.”

In October 2017 a family of six came to Swift Current from the United States. They were sponsored by the United Nations to settle in the United States, but their situation changed as a result of the new political administration in Washington.

“They were told that the Trump administration was basically pulling their funding and they were going to be send back,” Israelson said. “They could either go to Jordan or they could go to Syria.”

The family met with Canadian immigration and they went through the refugee claimant process, which allowed them to enter Canada legally.

“We as a group have been helping them with household items and providing them with support, even for food and clothing and stuff like that,” she said. “The group has rallied together around this family.”

Israelson believes the involvement of a sponsorship group makes a significant difference to help refugee families to settle in their new Canadian community.

“Basically we’re able to help them to fast track into integrating into society,” she said. “The possibilities are so much greater for them if they have that group around them.”

The SCAMA Refugee Committee appreciates the support from the community for their efforts to help refugees.

“It’s been very encouraging and wonderful to see the generosity of our community, considering the size of community that we are, the amount of people wanting to be involved, even how we were able to raise enough money for our big family but also then to have churches and community people come alongside us and continue to give funds,” she said. “There's been some different expenses coming up for both of the newer families and we’ve been able to help them out in those circumstances.”

The work of the committee is also making a difference to bring people in the community together who are working towards a common purpose.

“That’s been really great to be a part of community building,” she said. “The other thing too is just to really realize the privileges we have here in Canada and the things we take for granted. ... I think it also teaches us that because of this privilege, we have a responsibility to use it well. One of the Christian values that we have as a group is to be good stewards of what God has given us, and we have been given so much, and so to do our part and to help those that don’t have as much, and to be able to get them in a place where they feel safe and provided for and supported.”

SCAMA will host their inaugural refugee settlement fundraising supper at East Side Church of God on April 20 with entertainment by Keith Kitchen and a live and silent auction. The event will highlight the progress and success of refugee families who have settled in Swift Current with the support of SCAMA, and it will also be a fundraiser for the refugee settlement fund. There are different sponsorship opportunities available for this event.

More details about this fundraising supper and the work of the committee is available on the Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association Refugee Committee Facebook page (@SCRefugee).

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Matthew Liebenberg


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