The Golden Ears United Church congregation didn’t wait for the new government to kickstart the Syrian refugee program in order to make good an election promise. The church has already filed an application to bring in people that desperately need a new home.
Now members are hoping that paperwork to bring over a Kurdish family of four from Iran won’t be buried under the government’s election promise to bring in refugees from Syria.
“It’s wonderful that the government is taking on the promise to bring in 25,000 Syrians by the end of the year,” said Leenane Shiels, with Golden Ears. “We don’t know what that means for processing time for our application because they’re non-Syrians.”
It’s been a tense time for the family, which is now waiting in Turkey, living in one room.
“It’s a family of four, mom and dad who are both in their late 30s, and an 11-year-old boy and a two-year-old boy.”
“The situation for Kurds is very dangerous in Turkey at the moment,” said Shiels.
Turkey recently launched air strikes against Kurdish forces, an ethnic minority in Turkey, although both are supposed to be fighting ISIS.
Sponsoring a refugee family requires a year-long commitment, but most church groups help the arrivals from beyond that time period.
It could be that the federal government uses different departments to process private refugees sponsorships and government-sponsored applications.
“But I’m guessing that all resources are going to be focusing on the 25,000 government-sponsored refugees. We’re unsure at the moment about what it means for applications that are currently in the system.”
Shiels said it can take from months to a year to get a refugee family into Canada, while the cost for sponsoring a refugee family for a year is $27,000. Fortunately, the mom’s sister, Marziyeh, who lives in Coquitlam, has already raised $20,000, and the United Church has contributed $5,000.
“I think we’ve raised about $1,000,” Shiels said.
Financing the effort is up to churches or whoever is the sponsor.
“In private refugee sponsorships, the private sponsor takes on the full cost.”
Shiels said the time for processing a refugee application often depends on where the refugees are located and whether they have the proper documentation.
On Tuesday, the UN high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, called Canada’s goal of bringing in another 25,000 refugees a “huge gesture of solidarity with the Syrian people and the countries neighbouring Syria, which together are hosting more than four million refugees and bearing the brunt of the crisis.”
The St. Patrick’s Parish on 121st Avenue in Maple Ridge, however, is sponsoring two families from Syria.
One is a family of five, two daughters and a son, and the other is a family of seven, three daughters and two sons.
The first family is from Baghdad and the second is from Nineveh.
“Both are Catholic families who had ﬂed to Turkey from Iraq due to the persecution of Christians,” says St. Pat’s newsletter.
And both have been cleared by Turkish authorities.
“Asylum seekers in Turkey have to meet stringent documentation requirements before they can apply to resettle in another country.”
That can be difficult when they have to leave a war-zone in a hurry.
“It is therefore of great joy to learn their Turkish documents have been approved a few weeks ago.”
Maple Ridge’s interfaith bridging committee this week is also offering its services, said Ahmed Yousef. The group, which represents Christian, Bahai, Muslim and Mormon faiths, sent a letter this week to politicians, saying they can help with language skills or translation services.
“We’re still waiting to hear back from them.”
Yousef speaks Arabic, the predominant language in Syria.
In the north part of the country, they also speak Farsi (Persian) and Kurdish.
“We have Farsi speakers. We’re going to search for Kurdish speakers, because the Syrians do speak those three languages,” Yousef said.
Maple Ridge library is also making available some space for the interfaith group and the local immigration partnerships program, which operates out of the Family Education and Support Centre.
“We know that our capacities are limited, but we’re more than happy to contribute within those capacities,” Yousef said.
Despite what it may mean for their own application, Shiels also welcomes the government’s decision to back a campaign promise.
“I’m thrilled with that. I think it’s an amazing follow-through on a promise.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for the whole country to figure out how we’re going to accommodate them – but I think we’re up for the challenge.”