The United Churches of the Semiahmoo Peninsula/Muslim Association of White Rock Refugee Settlement Team includes (left to right

The United Churches of the Semiahmoo Peninsula/Muslim Association of White Rock Refugee Settlement Team includes (left to right

Churches merge resettlement efforts

Syrian refugees are welcomed in coordinated action by various Semiahmoo Peninsula faith groups

With close to 19,000 new Syrian refugees having already arrived in Canada – in line with the federal commitment to settle 25,000 by the early months of this year – South Surrey and White Rock faith groups continue to step up, and act co-operatively, to sponsor refugee families.

The Semiahmoo Peninsula’s United Church-White Rock Muslim Association refugee-settlement team have already welcomed their first sponsored family – who arrived Jan. 30 to the Surrey area (for privacy and security reasons their identities and location are not being made public at present, Crescent United council chair Peter Jones told Peace Arch News).

Muslim Association president Asad Sayed has confirmed that the organization has also raised enough funds to apply for another family and an application has been submitted.

At White Rock’s Holy Trinity Church, Deacon Paul Richards said his parish is currently raising funds to provide a full private sponsorship for another family – and acknowledged the help and advice of the groups that have already been over the territory.

“For a family of four to six requires about $30,000 for a year’s sponsorship, and we’re about at the half-way point,” Richards said.

“Other supports come into play including help from the province, municipalities and other groups. There are so many facets to this, including such important things as housing, family mentorship, English language education, medical care and planning.”

At Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Parish, refugee sponsorship steering committee member Marilyn MacIntosh said preparations are underway to apply to sponsor two refugee families.

She also acknowledged that sharing of information by other churches, including the United Church team, has been helpful and said she can see this co-operation continuing as more families are sponsored.

“Once families arrive it will be nice – for us and them – to connect them with other refugee families that have been brought into the area,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jones said the family sponsored by the United Churches and the White Rock Muslim Association – a mother, father, two sons and two daughters between the ages of 17 and 21 – is settling into housing found for them in North Surrey, a significant improvement over their former quarters in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

“Since the father has a long-standing medical disability, it was felt that it was better for them to be closer to some of the medical services and support services the family needs that are available in North Surrey,” Jones said. “It would have been nice if they could have come to our area, but it was the right decision.”

He said that he travelled with three of the youth down to Robson Square on Family Day – and the youngest son had fun trying on skates for the first time in his life.

They’re already adapting to Canada well, he said, and keeping in contact with family in Syria and elsewhere through Wi-Fi connections.

“Syria as a society is very well educated – they’re all very familiar with digital technology,” he said. “The mother is comfortable using an ATM and they all have Compass cards now. The boys are interested in sports and have been over to the rec centre, and one of the daughters likes to read a lot and she’s already taken books out at the library.”

ESL education will be very important in streaming the young people back into education, he said.

“They’re very keen to go to school – they’ve been out of it for several years. Their English comprehension is quite good and they’re not shy about trying to speak it and that’s going to help them a lot.

“They’re all lovely people, and so hospitable themselves – that’s in their culture, but they’re also so grateful to be here.”

Because of the father’s disability they already dealt with many challenges before violence erupted in Syria, Jones said.

“The mother has done an amazing job of keeping her family safe and keeping it together,” he said.

Their strongest impression of B.C. so far?

“They said it rains a lot here,” Jones laughed. “We bought them all umbrellas.”