Syrian refugee family arrives in Port Alberni

Port Alberni Refugee Sponsorship Committee keeps lid on new family's privacy for now.

After months of waiting, a Syrian refugee family has arrived in Port Alberni. The family arrived in Nanaimo on Friday and a busload of Alberni Valley residents, including Mayor Mike Ruttan, were on hand to greet them.

The Port Alberni Refugee Sponsorship Committee is assisting the family with immigration to Canada arrived in Port Alberni on Friday.

The Private Sponsorship Group, coordinated by the Notre Dame Catholic Church and trying to bring a second family into Port Alberni, is expecting further delays on the arrival of its Syrian family.

When she found out last week of the imminent arrival, PARSC member Pamela Day said it was exciting to finally get the word.

“It has been up and down,” Day said.

Earlier in the sponsorship process, the group was assigned a family of seven, including five boys, ranging in age from one to 12. In February, PARSC was informed that family was denied entry into Canada at the last minute, but remained confident another family would fill the void. One month later, it was confirmed that a Syrian family of five, with two young parents, two boys, aged 1 and 9 and a girl, 4, would arrive by the end of May.

“I think the whole push to get people through by the end of February put a strain on the immigration system,” Day said.

She said that although it has been a difficult time, the group maintained its role as a sponsor and members ensured everything was in place upon the family’s arrival. From keeping the home and yard clean to stocking it with food and housewares, they confidently provided a warm welcome.

“Needless to say, after two days of travel the family is exhausted and needs to have time to settle into their rental,” said PARSC member Leslie Wright in an e-mail. “We will discuss a more complete public announcement when the family is well-rested and comfortable.”

“We have been recalculating the budget to work with a different family and we are in good shape,” Day said. “We’re not 100 per cent there but close.”

Through community fundraisers, the group has been able to raise more than $30,000.

After the family settles, volunteers on the committee will introduce the school-aged girls to their new teachers and classrooms and the parents to support provided by Literacy Alberni.

“We hope they adjust quickly, and in retrospect, I think it will be easier for the children to learn the language and culture at that age,” she said. “They will be starting their schooling in Port Alberni.”

As well as showing the family around town, volunteers will also help with all of the paperwork that will need to be completed, Day said.

The group intends to respect the privacy of the family as they adjust to the new surroundings.

“They will be exhausted after 36 hours of travel time with kids,” Day said. “I can’t imagine travelling all around the world into a new country and a language they don’t understand, so we won’t be having a big welcome for some time.”

For chair of the Holy Family Notre Dame Refugee Committee, Michele Fraser, the delay has been frustrating. She said that after completing the application in January, the group is still waiting for receipt of the application and for a file number to move forward.

“It was like the government did a slam dunk when they brought in 28,000 and then shut everything down and went home,” Fraser said. “It is difficult to keep up fundraising and community building, but we will continue to fundraise some more.”

So far, the group has raised about $32,000 but are holding off securing any accommodation because of the lack of information.

“What concerns me is that life is very hard for people in the middle east and the war is not going away,” Fraser said. “It is not safe and it’s horrendous for them. So many Canadians are willing to help and give them a better life here.”

The group has been assigned a family and has been in contact by Skype.

“They have been researching Port Alberni and look forward to coming here,” Fraser said.

Updates on the arrival of the family sponsored by PARSC can be found at www.parsc.ca.

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