The Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association (SCAMA) Refugee Committee has welcomed a new refugee family to the city.
Sammy Khalife, the committee’s media and public relations coordinator, said the committee has been preparing for the arrival of the family for some time and they were happy to finally receive them.
“We are excited, because we have seen success with our previous families, and just the fact that they've been out of that refugee camp is success,” he mentioned. “It doesn't get more exciting than helping them to get here.”
The family of eight people have been living in refugee camps in Jordan after fleeing the war in their home country of Syria, where they farmed. They arrived in Swift Current on Oct. 18.
“They lost everything in the war,” he said. “Their town and their building have been completely destroyed. The school that they would run to hide in, five minutes after they left it, got bombed and destroyed. Then it became clear to them that they wanted to go to a safe region.”
They decided to go to the Jordanian border and ended up staying in a refugee camp under difficult conditions.
“They were living in a tent when they got there,” he said. “After six months it became clear that the situation in Syria is not going to be solved very soon. So they sent them to a different place, which is still on the border, another camp, but it was made from sea can containers.”
The process to assist this family has been different from what happened previously, when the SCAMA Refugee Committee assisted two refugee families to settle in Swift Current through the federal government's Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program, which matches refugees identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency with private sponsors in Canada.
The first family arrived in Swift Current in July 2016 and the second family has been in the city since October 2018. During the past three years the committee also provided some support to two other families who were already in Canada.
“This is a unique situation,” he noted. “We got the information for them before we sponsored them, and that doesn't happen often. So we were happy to talk with them.”
Khalife became aware of the family when he visited a refugee camp in Lebanon in 2017, where someone told him about the plight of this family in Jordan. They have an autistic son and life in the refugee camp was very stressful for him. The parents were afraid they were going to lose their son if they continue to stay in that refugee camp.
Khalife was able to get in touch with the family after he came back to Swift Current from his trip, and he learned more about their plight.
“They just wanted to leave,” he recalled. “Every embassy they applied to have refused them based on him autism. I felt that this will be a challenge that Swift Current will be happy to help me with. So I presented the Swift Current Ministerial Association with the idea of sponsoring them. At that time, we were in no budget to sponsor this family, and I reached businesses and people, and we came up with the money. God work in mysterious ways and donation after donation came up.”
This latest family therefore came to Swift Current as entirely private sponsored refugees through the SCAMA Refugee Committee. They still had to complete the same rigorous screening procedures before the sponsorship application was approved.
That application procedure is costly and a significant part of the expense of private refugee sponsorship, but the SCAMA Refugee Committee was fortunate to receive assistance from Anika Henderson of Imagine Immigration and Consulting Services.
“She took care of all the immigration papers,” he said. “She took over everything and she was great. The paperwork costs a lot of money. They go through medical tests and security checks and it's not an easy process.”
The SCAMA Refugee Committee continued to collect various household items for the settlement of the family while the paperwork was completed. They also set up a family structure team to support and assist the new refugee family during the year of sponsorship.
“Everyone came together for that family, and community members that weren't able to give money, gave hours of volunteering,” he said. “Money is not the only thing we need to get a group together. We need more bodies. We don't want to use our volunteers all the time. We want to give them a break.”
Their approach is to set up an entirely new family structure team for each refugee family to ensure that there is no volunteer burnout. Team members will assist with various aspects of a family’s settlement in Swift Current, from education and English language training to health and transport.
According to Khalife the biggest challenge for the parents in the new family will be to learn English, and for the children it will be the adjustment to life in a safe and secure community where they do not need to be afraid anymore.
“It is just to get them adjusted to the community,” he explained. “Most of the people that comes from a refugee situation are scared of officials and scared of police members and scared of firefighters or an ambulance. So we need to teach them they are here to help you, not to take you away or separate you from your family. So that’s a challenge with the kids.”
The previous two families sponsored through the SCAMA refugee committee have adjusted well to life in their new home and they are thriving in the community.
“The community has been so welcoming,” he noted. “They also love the community, they haven't had a bad experience, and that's something to be said about Swift Current.”
The SCAMA refugee committee has gained a lot of experience and knowledge from those previous sponsorships, but the arrival of each family is the start of a new and unique journey.
“It's never easy, but we have a very committed team,” he said. “It's not like we're the expert. We still learn, but we know what needs to be done and experience taught us that any problem that we face, it has a solution. … We believe in helping others and we believe that it's part of our Christian belief to show love and grace to others. Jesus himself was a refugee at some point.”