A group of Boundary residents is hoping to pull the community together to bring two Syrian refugee families to the area. Although there has been a little backlash, organizers say there has been a lot of support so far.
Just over 25,000 Syrian refugees in total have arrived in Canada fleeing a vicious civil war that has devastated Syria. Although some of the Syrians landing in B.C. have been relocated, many are still staying in Vancouver.
Ben Jepsen, who is a youth pastor at Gospel Chapel, and Kerri Martens are two of the people trying to bring two of those families to Grand Forks.
“Ben and I have both been parts of conversation with members of the community on what we could do,” said Martens. “Nobody was sure they could head it up so they were looking for someone to start the ball rolling. It was late fall when we first started talking about it. January we had our official first meeting.”
The informal group met on Feb. 23 in Grand Forks and hammered out some details. Martens said it’s a diverse group with representatives from throughout the community. The group would like to bring in two families and are looking for two homes, some job opportunities, at least eight volunteers to drive them around and be available for them, and $20,000.
“Can we do this in Grand Forks,” said Jepsen in a Facebook post. “This is a great opportunity for this community to come together and help people in need.”
Martens said nothing has been set in stone as of yet. She said that having two families is real benefit so they can help each other. “We were asked to take more than one family because that way they can support each other with the language barrier and with the isolation,” she said. “We are working with a sponsorship agreement holder group in Kelowna.”
She said that many of the rules around Syrian immigration have changed to make it easier.
“They’re only bringing in government assisted refugees so that’s way less financial responsibility on our part,” she said. “So basically the government sponsors and we’re the hosts.”
Martens said there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before bringing in any families. “It’s so up in the air,” she said. “Even the agencies we are working with are still learning things and it just keeps changing all the time. They haven’t given us a timeline yet, they’ve just told us what to do to get ready. Our job is to do a settlement plan. So we have to have all that in place before they will sent us a family or families.”
Martens said helping the Syrian refugees was a no brainer for her. “I’m an adoptive parent of a child from Ethiopia so it’s close to my heart,” she said. “We have so much here. If we can help why wouldn’t we?”
In response to the argument of why not help those in need who already live here, Martens said, “We’re already helping those people and I don’t think it’s either/or. I think the majority of the community is supportive. It’s hard to say because we’ve really only just begun but so far the positive feedback has been more than the negative.”
Martens said there are many benefits to having refugees come to a town.
“It helps our town to have more people come here and we always want more young families,” she said.
“That’s a good thing. I think it will draw us together and make us feel like we’re part of Canada and that we’re serious that we welcome people from different races and colours. These are people who have lost everything: their homes, their families. They have nothing.”
For more information or to volunteer, contact Ben Jepsen at Gospel Chapel at 250-442-5148 or email Martens at firstname.lastname@example.org.